I was in my senior year of college when the Indian Ocean Tsunami claimed the lives of more than 230,000 people. I felt this immediate call to action within my heart; I need to go there, I need to help. The first organization that came into my mind was the Red Cross. I knew that they were a volunteer organization who always stepped up to the plate in times of disaster. I got ahold of my local volunteer chapter and I told them I wanted to go. I told them I was willing to drop everything and I told myself that I’d finish my degree later.
The man on the other side of the phone told me no and explained that Red Cross responses start with the local, trained Red Cross workers in their home country, and that there are hundreds of thousands of Red Cross volunteers all over the world; during an international response, the Red Cross sends its most highly trained specialists from among the thousands of ready and willing volunteers around the world. He explained that sending just anyone would result in chaos that would take time away from the people who needed help and from what needed to be done.
Seven years later I was living in Japan when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami occurred causing over 16,000 deaths and nuclear contamination that is impossible to estimate. I had friends who scarcely got out alive and others whose lives were changed forever. I was living in a small farming town north of where the destruction occurred but all of Japan experienced a startling rise in radiation levels. The 1000 people in my town came together trying to decide what to do and resolved to plaster every building with heavy duty plastics. Two days later work and school were called off and the entire town went to work on this project. It was an exhilarating feeling seeing how people come together in times of need.
Once again I felt that call to action and watched as the Red Cross entered Japan and did what they do best. I resolved that as soon as I returned to the United States that I would start to volunteer for the Red Cross. I became a volunteer in 2012 and began the training that I had been told about 8 years earlier. Now I understand that it is all the work and training done ahead of time that makes the Red Cross successful when volunteers do need to be mobilized.
What I’ve learned since joining the Red Cross is that Red Cross is hard at work every day, not just during massive natural disasters. They are helping people in need right in your back yard to make it to doctor’s appointments, to inspire young people to get involved, to be prepared for house fires and many other things all of which are done by volunteers. If you are the type of person who feels that call to help when you see people in need start volunteering for the Red Cross now. They will help get you the training you need so that when disaster strikes you are ready to be a part of this wonderful thing called volunteerism.
|This is me in Japan hiking Mt. Fuji|