Friday, January 30, 2015

Here's Why You Should Care About a 150-year-old Set of Rules

by Warren Roh, Volunteer Photographer/Storyteller
Most of us have heard of the Geneva Convention. These two words seem to be spoken at least once during every war movie seen in theaters or on TV. I am a U.S. Navy combat veteran. So, when I was asked to attend and photograph the Born on the Battlefield training session at the Red Cross in Denver, I jumped at the chance. The instructor for the training was Tim Bothe. Tim is the International Services Manager for the Colorado & Wyoming Red Cross Region.

To me, the Geneva Convention was a treaty, signed by the U.S. and other countries that spelled out how prisoners of war were to be treated. I didnt know that the Geneva Convention is actually the culmination of four conventions or that it spawned the Red Cross.

Henri Dunant
At this training, we learned that a Swiss activist named Henri Dunant, upon visiting the appalling conditions and horrible treatment of wounded soldiers in the battle of Solferino Italy in 1859, proposed that two significant events take place. Those two events were: 1) that a permanent relief agency for humanitarian aid in times of war be formed, and 2) that a treaty to recognize the neutrality of that relief agency be internationally ratified.

The relief agency became the International Red Cross, based in Geneva, Switzerland. The government treaty became the first Geneva Convention, ratified in 1864. Those two events changed the face of war and the humanitarian treatment of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and civilians ever since.

The Geneva Conventions and their importance in times of war and the humanitarian services of the Red Cross, not only on the battlefield, but in every-day peacetime life, are legendary. This history, in my estimation, should be taught in every high school.

After the training was over, I asked several of the attendees, “did you find this training interesting or helpful? Everyone I spoke with found the training helpful and they gave the class high praise.

Tim Bothe teaches "Born on the Battlefield."
When I came home after class, I asked my two daughters, one a high school senior and one a college sophomore, if they new what the Geneva Convention was. My high school senior said: “What’s that?” I then asked her if she knew who the Red Cross was. She said, “They make Band-Aids, don’t they?" I asked my other daughter, who is a Photojournalism major at Colorado State University, if she had ever heard of the Geneva Convention. She said that she had, but she didn't know anything about it. I then asked her about the Red Cross. She said, “I think they help people, but I’m not sure what all they do.”

My elder daughter then asked if she could read my synopsis of the training from my class notes below. She said, “Wow dad, that’s really cool; did you know any of that before you took the class?” I told her that I was taken aback by how much I didn't know.

My college-aged daughter goes to school in Ft. Collins and has since contacted the Red Cross chapter in Northern Colorado. She has started the process to become a Red Cross Volunteer. My wife and high school senior now want to learn more as well.  I am personally going to ask to speak to my American Legion Post on this subject.

I’d say this class has an effect on my entire family. My hope is that more American families can learn about these important international laws and how they are still relevant today.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

by Jessica Murison, Red Cross Volunteer

Today marks a significant day in history, wherein detainees were liberated from Auschwitz, the deadliest concentration camp during World War II.  It is estimated that over 1.1 million people died in the camp between 1940 and 1945. Many of the persons who survived Auschwitz have gathered at the site to commemorate the liberation they experienced 70 years ago.  Almost all of today’s survivors were children at the time of detention.  This year’s commencement is significant, in that this marks one of the last times when a large number of the elderly survivors from Auschwitz will gather together to acknowledge and remember Auschwitz, and advocate against anti-Semitism. 

Here in the U.S., the American Red Cross continues to play a role in helping those who were affected by the genocide of the Holocaust.  Through the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, survivors are able seek information about family members they had been separated from during World War II.   

Many of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust were not able to track down their loved ones after the war, and some even assumed that they were the only survivors (See Saul’s story here).  Years later, the Red Cross can help research those lost family members and seek to unveil their stories – and in some cases, even reunite family members. Restoring Family Links provides a free service to reconnect those who were disconnected, and to research as to what happened during the time of war. 

Over the years, Red Cross has provided several people the solace of finally knowing what occurred, and has even been able to reconnect some survivors with their missing relatives.  Although many of those who lived through the Holocaust are no longer with us, Red Cross continues to solve the mysteries for those family members, and aims to complete their stories.  

To find out more about how you can help families separated by war, visit the Red Cross Restoring Family Links website at

Friday, January 23, 2015

How the Red Cross Focuses on Human Needs: Humanitarian Services and Migration

By Cassie Schoon, Volunteer Writer

I thought about treading lightly with this topic. There are few more politically divisive issues than that of migration. But this blog -- and the upcoming Red Cross Lunch and Learn that it previews -- isn’t about politics. It’s not about the Red Cross taking a side or promoting immigration policy, because the Red Cross is a neutral organization; neutrality is written into the guiding values of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement.

What matters to the Red Cross across the globe – and to Red Cross workers like Jon Dillon, a caseworker and outreach associate with the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program – is alleviating human suffering. For Dillon, who will host a special edition of the International Services Lunch and Learn event on Wednesday, helping migrants reconnect with displaced loved ones is a mission that transcends politics.

“First and foremost, we are a humanitarian organization that is there to serve the basic needs of human beings,” Dillon said. “I have a coworker who says it perfectly: there are five needs that people have in times of crisis, and those are food, water, shelter, access to medical services and family. And especially when you have family, access to the other four becomes a lot easier.”

Over the past several years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (the ICRC) has begun to look more closely at the humanitarian needs of migrant populations on a global scale. More recently, the American Red Cross began to examine the needs of migrants within the United States. After research among migrant populations in various American border cities exposed a specific need for RFL services, the Red Cross began to work closely with organizations with established relationships among migrant populations to address these family contact needs.

During the influx of unaccompanied children into the U.S. last summer, the Red Cross assisted detained minor immigrants in contacting family members both within the United States and in their home countries. The Red Cross provides these services to migrants as part of the organization’s commitment to universal humanitarian principles. For his part, Dillon sees the work of reconnecting migrants with displaced family members as the fulfillment of an essential humanitarian need.

“Having a loss of contact creates a lot of uncertainty, both for migrants and the family they’re trying to contact,” Dillon said.

Dillon said that providing these services also helps the Red Cross to build trust within a community that may need help from the Red Cross in the future.

“By providing these calls, we’ll also build more trust with the migrant communities, so when they are in U.S. communities and have other family contact needs, say, if a disaster happens in Mexico or Chile and they can’t get a hold of family, they will feel comfortable coming to the Red Cross for those services.”

Dillon said he hopes his presentation will help people understand the universality of the human need among all populations for family contact and security.

“Migrants are human beings, just like everyone else, and they have those basic needs,” Dillon said. “Helping migrants is very much a part of the mission of the Red Cross.”

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 28, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by noon Tuesday, Jan. 27, by visiting Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe .

Monday, January 19, 2015

What did you do on 2015 MLK Day of Service?

By Bill Fortune/American Red Cross
Photo by Curtis Lovett/American Red Cross

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Life’s most persistent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Volunteer Warren Roh (R) shows a smoke alarm to
9 month old Reagen Landiss in Colorado Springs.
On MLK Day, Americans across the country come together for a day of service, picking up the baton handed to us by past generations and carrying forward their efforts.  That is what happened in Colorado Springs on MLK Day as Red Cross volunteers joined with cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy to install smoke alarms.

Four teams spread out across the area on a cool morning armed with smoke alarms and headed to Woodland Park, Black Forest and Peyton, as well as, several locations in Colorado Springs. The teams installed smoke alarms in 14 homes that had requested alarms based on a previous canvassing effort. Each home received 3 smoke alarms. They also received a home fire inspection and educational material to help them be better prepared for home fires and other emergencies.

 “This is a blessing,” said Brittany Landess who is the mother of three small children. “I feel so much better knowing that my children are just a little safer.” As the team was about to leave the Landess home five year old Branson stopped one of the Red Cross installers to make sure they had included an alarm for his baby brother.  “I want him to be safe, too,” he said.

The smoke alarm installations were part of the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign that is a 5-year effort to reduce fatalities caused by home fires by twenty-five percent over the next five years. In just the past few months, the Red Cross has already reached more than 36,000 people by installing more than 21,000 smoke alarms. Recent studies suggest that by having a working smoke alarm in your home you can improve your chance of survival by 50 percent.

Home fires occur with startling regularity in America and the American Red Cross responds to each one with the goal of alleviating the suffering brought on by a home fire. Disaster volunteers work closely with the families that have been displaced to help them with immediate needs like clothing, food and shelter. They also work to provide emotional and medical support if needed.

To find out more about home fire safety and the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign visit

Friday, January 16, 2015

January Lunch & Learn Event: Empowering Communities and Individuals to Fight HIV/AIDS

There are no easy answers in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. From disease to poverty to cultural taboos regarding drug use and sexuality, the challenges faced by patients, aide workers, policy makers and health professionals all have numerous facets and myriad causes. It was into this complex environment that Justine Feagles, the speaker for this month’s International Services Lunch & Learn lecture, arrived this past summer, when she travelled to Namakkal, India to work with populations living with HIV.

“I have been interested in medicine and children since a young age. Throughout undergrad I became a strong advocate for HIV and reproductive health rights,” said Feagles, who is currently in the last semester of her Masters program in International Disaster Psychology at University of Denver. “I've also always had this weird obsession with India, not sure why. The dream has always been to work in India with HIV positive people.”

In Namakkal, Feagles taught health courses to both male and female students, discussing HIV prevention and treatment as well as other sensitive topics such as sexual assault, STD prevention, puberty and cancer detection. At home in Denver, Feagles has worked with refugee populations through the African Community Center’s after-school programs for displaced youth. Currently, she works an intern therapist with the Community Based Services Team at Arapahoe Douglas Mental Health Network.
The IFRC uses this community-based model to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Although Feagles’ work in India and stateside has not intersected specifically with the efforts of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) leads global efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to administer to those affected by the disease. Between 2009 and 2012, 57 National Societies of the Red Cross formed The Global Red Cross Red Crescent Alliance on HIV, which provides community-based prevention, education and support services in nations where such resources would otherwise be unavailable. But while health care services and resources fulfill an important and immediate need, the IFRC mission of empowering and advocating for those living with AIDS is a central component to the program’s long-term success. In Feagles’ experience, cultural stigmas surrounding the disease, and a lack of advocacy for those living with HIV/AIDS can create barriers to effective education and treatment efforts.

“The biggest challenge for the work I’ve been doing is providing reproductive health education in cultures where the subject is taboo,” she said. “It’s also hard to work with a population that is ostracized from society; it’s difficult watching others struggle and to know you'll be leaving in a few months and they’re stuck.”

Global populations affected by HIV/AIDS have powerful allies in dedicated professionals like Feagles, as well as in the community-based approach of the IFRC Global Alliance. But a great deal of need persists: only about one-third of the world’s population in need of HIV/AIDS treatment has ready access to it, and access to health education remains an issue in many high-risk populations. To begin to chip away at the many challenges related to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, knowledge and understanding are key. With the Lunch and Learn event, Feagles hopes to reinforce the importance of these elements in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

“I want to create awareness around the importance of advocacy and education surrounding stigma and health care access,” she said.

More information on the IFRC’s HIV/AIDS efforts can be found here.

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 21, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, by visiting Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

DIsaster Action Team Responds to Hotel Fire in Pueblo

DAT Captain John Goorley coordinates with ACOVA
and Pueblo FD to help affected residents of Bramble
Tree Hotel in Pueblo
By Bill Fortune/American Red Cross

Freezing drizzle, light snow and falling temperatures greeted Dan Chavez as he arrived at the Bramble Tree Hotel in Pueblo. The acrid smell of smoke was everywhere. Lights from fire trucks lit up the air as fire fighters worked to save the facility. Chavez is a member of the Disaster Action Team in Pueblo, Colo. He was responding to a call to help people who might be displaced by a fire at the hotel.

DAT Member Dan Chavez works to locate temporary
lodging for Bramble Tree Hotel residents if needed. 
When Chavez arrived he was greeted by a large crowd huddled in the hotel’s breakfast room while firefighters worked to secure the facility.  “Hotel fires are always difficult,” said Chavez. “There is a lot of confusion and the residents are tired and upset.”

The disaster team went to work right away to try and reassure people.  Team Captain John Goorley and his wife Sherrie also responded to the early morning call. The team’s first task was to coordinate with the fire department to determine what units were affected and how many people were in need of help.

Nancy Mungaray, a resident at the hotel, was awakened by alarms and commotion. She was happy to see the Red Cross helping. “It was hard to get information until the Red Cross showed up,” she said.”They were able to talk to the fire department so that we knew what was happening.”

The Pueblo Fire Department was able to contain the damage to one room with some residual damage to nearby units. Residents were allowed to return to the livable rooms. Hotel management provided rooms for a two families. Red Cross will be working with two additional adults to determine what needs they might have.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Year's Resolution

Bill Fortune/American Red Cross

Every year we all-- well most of us -- go through it. You know the agony of creating New Year’s resolutions. It’s as if life had a “reset button” and at the beginning of a new year everything changes. But does it, really? I know every year I go through the effort to make changes.

I resolve to eat more kale. Seriously?
Unfortunately, only about 8 percent of Americans actually achieve their resolutions. I am part of the other 92-percent. Maybe that can be the new hashtag for 2015, #the other 92%. Last year I resolved to eat more kale. Seriously, eat more kale. How long do you think that one lasted? A resolution like that is kind of like resolving to finish a tube of lip balm.

According to these were the top 5 New Year resolutions from 2014. Do any of them sound familiar?

1 Lose Weight
2 Getting Organized
3 Spend Less, Save More
4 Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5 Staying Fit and Healthy

I am sure that at one time or another many of us have made at least one of those resolutions. And, being a member of the 92-percent club, I can safely say that I failed in each attempt. However, in 2009 I made an important resolution. I was retiring from a 40+ year career and I knew that it was my year to give back and to make a difference. That year I resolved to volunteer my time. That year I became a Red Cross volunteer.

That particular resolution, to volunteer, shows up frequently in America but it had never been on my list. There wasn’t enough time in the days, weeks or months. I was too busy focusing on career and family. But that year it was at the top and I have to say it was the best resolution I ever made and one of the few that I successfully completed.

The Red Cross made it easy to do and quickly absorbed me into the Red Cross “family.” Within weeks I was using skills I didn’t know I had to help people when they needed it the most. I was learning new skills, seeing new places and meeting new friends. Complete strangers were coming up to shake my hand and saying, “Thank you for doing what you do!” I was becoming “one of the helpers.” I was making a difference.

So, what will your resolution be for 2015? Will it be one of the typical top 5 resolutions? Will you resolve to eat more kale? Or, will it be one that you can actually complete and one that makes you feel good about yourself? Will it be the one that, at the end of a long day of helping people, lets you fall asleep knowing you made a difference?

In the New Year, resolve to become an American Red Cross volunteer. Visit and click on Volunteer.