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Monday, March 31, 2014

My Red Cross Story: Reconnecting Families Across Time and Distance

Robbe Sokolove
By Robbe Sokolove, Red Cross Volunteer
People all around the globe reach out to the Red Cross to initiate an International Tracing case. They’ve been separated from their loved ones by war, conflict or disaster and they hope to send a message to get back in touch.

When a case is initiated, the national Red Cross office will print out a list of potential addresses based on the person’s last known whereabouts. As an International Services Casework volunteer, it’s my job to start tracing them from that information in order to deliver a message.

After I retired from a career as a librarian, I wanted to pursue something that was stimulating but where I could interact with people and use my skills for something good. My 30 years of research skills are a huge asset - but I also perform what’s essentially detective work, pounding the pavement to knock on doors, ask questions, build relationships and follow clues to find the long-lost family member.
Submit YOUR Red Cross story at
http://www.redcross.org/colorado-stories
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For example, there was a brother and sister from Somalia who got separated from each other when they were very young, each living in different refugee camps. She eventually relocated to Colorado about 10 years ago, and lost all track of her brother. He was still in a refugee camp in Kenya and initiated a case with the Red Cross there hoping to get back in contact with his sister. The Kenyan Red Cross shared the tracing inquiry with the American Red Cross national headquarters, where they ran a list of her last known potential addresses. Because those leads were here in the Denver metro area, I was assigned the case.

No one would answer the cell phone number provided, so I visited the suggested address in Thornton. The first time I went, I knocked and no one answered – but a child peeked out of the shutters. I showed her my Red Cross badge to let her know it was safe. She recognized the Red Cross emblem and took me to a family member. The sister I was seeking was not home, but I was given her direct cell phone number.  After several failed attempts to arrange contact, I finally met the woman in person and hand-delivered a hand-written message in Swahili from her brother.

I got to watch her reaction as she read his letter. She was astounded to hear from her brother after all these years, and to read that he had married and had children. Soon, I will deliver another message complete with photographs from the refugee camp.

That is just one of the dozens of interesting cases I have worked over the past year.   Reuniting families is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done.  It is a privilege as well as a great adventure.

Find out more about Red Cross Restoring Family Links programs.

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