Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Husband and Wife Reconnected After 6 Years Without Contact

By Jessica Murison
Imagine telling your husband that you were going to visit family, unaware that as you leave your home that day that it would be the last time you would see or hear from your husband for several years.

What is unimaginable for most of us is reality for some refugees. And it was reality for Sifa.

In 2009, Sifa was living with her husband and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She told her husband, Elisha, she was going to visit her mother-in-law, and set out for the village. The DRC is a relatively unstable country, with rebel groups contracted in territorial and resource disputes. Shortly after Sifa arrived in her mother-in-law’s village, violence broke out. She and her children had to flee, leaving her husband behind.

Sifa and her children became refugees. They had lost all contact with Elisha. In 2013 they relocated to Denver, where Sifa learned of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, which works to reconnect families separated by conflict, disasters, migration, or other humanitarian emergencies.
Sifa opened a case with the American Red Cross by writing a letter to the Red Cross chapter in Denver. In that letter, she gave details on the last known whereabouts of her husband, and the last time she heard from him. The Red Cross opened a tracing case for Sifa and her family in August 2014.

Tracking down people who have been scattered by conflict can take months – sometimes years. A year after the Red Cross took her case, the network of Red Cross societies in Africa had finally located Elisha, and sent a letter from him to be delivered to Sifa.

On Saturday, August 22, 2015, Sifa came to the American Red Cross office in Denver to read the letter. The letter was written in Lingala (Ngala), which is a Bantu language spoken throughout the northwestern part of the DRC.

Upon arrival, Sifa looked happy but a little nervous, waiting for news about Elisha. She brought along her daughter Debbie, a sophomore at the local high school who enjoyed hip hop and volleyball. We took a seat at a round table, and with an interpreter, gave Sifa the letter.

Sifa and daughter Debbie read a letter from Sifa's husband.
It was the first contact they'd had with him in six years.
As she read, she traced the letter with her finger, her hand proudly displaying her gold wedding band. She  touched the paper gingerly, as this piece of paper connected her to her husband.

The letter was fairly simple. Elisha gave many names, telling her that people back home were doing well. He asked how she was, how were his children, what was her life like? As Sifa read the letter aloud in their native tongue, tears streamed down Debbie's face. She missed her dad.

Elisha is currently in a refugee camp in Uganda. He provided a phone number where Sifa could reach him, so that she can now continue to communicate with him by phone.

Holding the letter in her hand, Sifa smiled and graciously thanked us. Her positive attitude, no doubt, is the sole reason why she can endure the long separation from her husband. Since our meeting, Sifa said she has spoken with Elisha by phone and said she is already researching how to help her husband immigrate to Colorado to be reunited with his family.

The American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program successfully reconnected more than 4,000 families last year, and opens thousands of new cases each year. Sifa and Elisha’s story is a reminder of the impact that conflict can have on civilians, tearing families apart. Through the Restoring Family Links program, families like Sifa’s have a chance of being brought back together – first by a letter, then by phone, and hopefully, someday, in person.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Behind the scenes: Managing the outpouring of goodwill

 By Bill Fortune and Patricia Billinger

When disaster strikes, we all want to help. Local governments, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and individuals all rally to help those in need. The American Red Cross is among those who answer the call to help.

Volunteers in Calistoga, CA go through boxes of items donated
to California wildfire relief.
Photo by J. Knowles/American Red Cross
The Red Cross mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.  That’s a tall order, and it would simply not be possible if not for amazing volunteers and generous donors. Fortunately, we’ve seen time and again that Americans are inspired to give when they see disasters displace their neighbors down the street, across the country and around the world.

Responding to this generosity is a complex task that requires transparency, tracking, thoughtfulness and strategic thinking – it’s one of the behind-the-scenes efforts you might not realize comes with the job of responding to disasters!

James Knowles is a Red Cross worker from the Colorado-Wyoming Region who deployed on Sept. 14 to California to help out with one of the more complex aspects of managing the outpouring of generosity that accompanies a major disaster: donations of goods and services, also known as “in-kind” donations.

“People are so generous and they truly want to help,” said Knowles, who is working to manage in-kind donations related to the Valley and Butte fires in California.

Financial donations allow the Red Cross to quickly mobilize our volunteers and equipment across the country, organize them into a disaster response operation, and purchase the resources that meet some of the needs we see in the affected community.

A warehouse in Calistoga, CA where donated items are
stored, sorted and distributed to those affected by the
wildfires in California.
 Photo by J.Knowles/American Red Cross
In addition to accepting financial donations, the Red Cross uses bulk donations of essential items from the corporate sector, especially when there is a need for large quantities of things like drinking water, food and snacks, and personal hygiene items. We work with local restaurants to help provide food, local and national partners to help with cooking, and a variety of companies to meet unique needs – for example, the Red Cross worked with Modesto-based supermarket chain Save Mart to accept a donation of 2,760 non-perishable food items to help feed evacuees. Del Monte Foods donated 1,500 non-perishable, nutritious fruit products--500 fruit cups, 500 easy-open fruit cans, and 500 of drinkable fruit snacks.

Each item, whether donated or purchased, must be tracked from the time it is requested, through the receiving process and through distribution. Everything must be accounted for. In-Kind donations workers like James are assigned to the disaster response operation to be responsible for that effort.

James Knowles multi-tasks as he helps manage the tremendous
 outpouring of in-kind donations for the Red Cross relief
effort for the wildfires in California.
 Photo by Linda Bisset/American Red Cross
In addition to the larger corporate donations, individuals and groups often want to drop off small donations of items like clothing, bedding, towels and food. Those types of in-kind donations pose an ongoing challenge during most disasters: often, organizations focused on meeting immediate emergency needs struggle to quickly establish a solution that will allow people to help while also ensuring that the items being offered are safe, meet the actual needs of people affected, and don’t interfere with the delivery of immediate basic services like shelter, food and health support.

“Until I deployed on this disaster, I never understood just how much time, coordination and resources it takes to accept, sort, clean, move, and distribute donated ‘stuff’ when it comes in thousands of individual bundles instead of bulk, packaged donations on easy-to-move pallets,” James said.

He added: “In the chaotic first days of a disaster, our focus is on setting up shelters where we can put a roof over people’s heads, serve hot meals, and ensure their physical and emotional well-being. But we strive to quickly connect people with the community partner who can best help channel that flood of goodwill.”

The Red Cross works with local organizations that have the mechanisms to store, clean, sort, organize and deliver such small individual donations of items within the community. In communities where this process has been established, practiced and tested, the public more quickly can find an avenue to donate their goods. Other times, it may take several days to find the best way to channel this form of generosity.

In-kind donations must be sorted and documented
before they can be distributed. Volunteers must go
through each box to determine where and how it will
be used. Photo by J.Knowles/American Red Cross
“We know it can be frustrating when people want to give a tangible item, and are told to hold off and have patience,” James said. “However, the Red Cross simply does not have the resource to accept every in-kind donation. The donation must fit a need and it must not incur an expense for storage or cleaning.”

In an effort to help manage the outpouring of in-kind donations, Knowles other team members arranged for a donation of boxes from U-Haul that could be used to help organize the items. “Every day the number of donated items got larger,” James said. “People would drop items off by the truckload at our disaster response headquarters in Calistoga and at our shelters.”

Some of the donated items were new, unopened items that evacuees could use immediately, while other items would have to be cleaned and processed. Some donations, while well intentioned, don’t meet immediate needs of those affected.

In Calistoga, CA, the Red Cross worked with county officials and the Napa County Fairgrounds to identify a partner (the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership Emergency Volunteer Center) to coordinate all goods donations and non-Red Cross volunteer management at the Fairgrounds.

“It can be frustrating if you aren’t able to give items on the first days of a disaster. We hope that people will be understanding and recognize that wildfire survivors will have a variety of needs as they recover from this disaster,” James said. “They will need our help – and the help of the community – not just now, but in the days, weeks, and months to come.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Comfort, Hope and Support for Residents of the Country Club Villas

By Bill Fortune and Elisa DiTrolio/American Red Cross

Home fires never strike when you're ready. They are notorious for happening in the middle of the night…when people are most vulnerable and least prepared.

Members of the Baptist Church post helpful information for
Country Club Villa residents on the wall of the Red Cross 
shelter Friday, Sep. 18, 2015 
Photo by Sally Norton/American Red Cross
Wednesday, Sept. 16, around 11 p.m., fire broke out at the Country Club Villas apartments in Denver. As the fire spread, more than 100 apartment units had to evacuate.

The community of the Country Club Villas is made up of many different cultures and backgrounds. This is a diverse community and one where everyone looks out after one another. On any given weekend you will often find a community BBQ and see children playing together. This is a community where their diversity brings them together.

That night, the night of the fire, the community was faced with an unthinkable situation where, once again, they would need to take care of each other – even catching each other’s kids as they were dropped from a second story window.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at the Potter's House Church in Denver, not far from the Country Club Villas apartments. As residents poured into the shelter the sense of community was strong. They were checking on each other and making sure everyone was accounted for.  A local restaurant owner provided pizza for the residents while the Red Cross team began assessing each resident’s needs. Later the shelter was moved to the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Aurora. 

Red Cross shelter documents are printed in several
languages so that diverse populations can be supported.
Photo by Sally Norton/American Red Cross
The Red Cross shelter gave people a warm, safe place to stay. Food and drinks were provided along with blankets and cots. Red Cross nurses were quick to support those with functional or special needs.  A few of the residents were sent to a nearby hotel due their special needs. Red Cross disaster mental health professionals also provided emotional support by talking to each resident.

Paul Ewaldt, a resident who comes from East Africa and lived on the garden level, spent Thursday anxiously waiting to hear about the damage to his home and how long he will be displaced. Because of his special health needs the Red Cross provided an air mattress and helped him get medications. “You guys are pretty well organized for a situation like this,” Ewaldt said. “I can tell you have been doing this for a while.”

A cot and teddy bear are ready to help provide
comfort and hope to those affected by the Country
Club Villas apartment fire.
Photo by Daphne Hart/American Red Cross
Many of the residents in this community are from other countries, like Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Ghana and others. As Red Cross workers met with each resident it was clear that there were additional concerns, other than safety. In one case, a Libyan refugee was deeply concerned about losing his documentation and his job. Red Cross sent a representative from our International Services to help him and others with concerns about documentation and with contacting loved ones in their home countries.

 The night of the fire and through the weekend, compassionate Red Cross volunteers continued to support residents, feeding breakfast, lunch and dinner. They provided more than just full bellies and a safe place to sleep: they brought hope to people who are new to America whose lives have been disrupted once again.

If you would like to support the ability of the Red Cross to respond to disasters big and small, please consider a donation to support Disaster Relief: call 1-800-REDCROSSS or donate at 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Colorado Red Cross Plans Large Scale Home Fire Campaign

Updated September 22, 2015 - The American Red Cross of Colorado will sponsor a one-day, large scale, Home Fire Campaign event Friday, September 25, 2015. This event will cover six Colorado counties and involve nearly six hundred works, including over 400 cadets from the United States Air Force Academy. The workers will go door-to-door in several communities to test smoke alarms, replacing nonworking alarms and if needed install new smoke alarms. They will also provide home fire information to the residents.

This is a one-day event that will involve homes in specific areas within the following counties: El Paso, Douglas, Chaffee, Teller, Pueblo and Otero. Below is a list of locations that will be canvassed by the Home Fire Campaign teams. Teams will be visible in these locations between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Colorado Home Fire Campaign-September 25, 2015-Updated 9/22/15
Community Name
El Paso County
Lamplighter Mobile Home Park
3280 S. Academy Blvd
Colorado Springs 80916
Cobblestone Townhomes
Hwy 115/Star Ranch Rd
Colorado Springs
Cimarron Hills
Entire Community
Colorado Springs, 80915
Circle Drive Mobile Home Park
2840 S. Circle Dr
Colorado Springs, 80906
Monument Creek Mobile Home Park
85 Sunflower Rd
Colorado Springs, 80907
Emerald Acres Mobile Home Park
3750 N. Cascade Ave.
Colorado Springs, 80907
Shadow Mountain Mobile Home Park
2701 Robinson St.
Colorado Springs, 80904
Highland Village Mobile Home Park
3303 N. Hancock Ave
Colorado Springs, 80907
Holiday Village Mobile Home Park
3405 Sinton Rd
Colorado Springs, 80907
Palmer Lake – Street Canvassing
Palmer Lake
Shadow Mountain
2701 Robinson
Colorado Springs
Cheyenne Mountain Estates
8160 Piute Rd
Colorado Springs

Pueblo County
Pueblo West – Street Canvassing
Kipling, Celina, Homer
Pueblo West, 81007

Meadowbrook Mobile Home Community
33550 E. Hwy 96
Lake Minnequa Area
Pueblo, 81004
Oakwood Estates
Oakwood Estates

Stagecoach Mobile Home Park
3213 N. Freeway
Pueblo Grande Mobile Home Park
999 Fortino Blvd
Oasis Mobile Home Park
2221 S. Prairie
Otero County
Meadows Mobile Home Park
1423 W. Sunset Dr
La Junta, 81050

Chaffee County
Call (303) 607-4753  for Appointment
Chaffee County
Call (303) 607-4753 for Appointment
Buena Vista
Call (303) 607-4753 for Appointment
Teller County
Cripple Creek
Call (303) 607-4753 for Appointment

Douglas County
Larkspur – Street Canvassing
Call (303) 607-4753 for Appointment

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Red Cross of Western Colorado Reaches Home Fire Campaign Milestone

Red Cross workers going door-to-door in Montrose, CO
The American Red Cross of Western Colorado reached a milestone for the Home Fire Campaign Saturday, September 12, 2015, when they installed their 1000th smoke alarm. Teams spread out across  Northbrook Villas in  Montrose, CO. as part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign to test smoke alarms in homes, speak to residents about home fire safety and, if needed, install new smoke alarms or replace batteries.

Red Cross worker Mike Masto shows a smoke alarm to
Damian Mares in Montrose, CO
The install effort was coordinated by Kevin Kraus, the preparedness coordinator for the Red Cross in Western Colorado. “We have been working hard to make sure that people in our area are thinking about home fire safety,” Kraus said as he went door-to-door. “The project started almost a year ago and today we reached the 1000 mark here in Montrose.”

Red Cross workers went door-to-door on a warm afternoon and by the end of the day they had installed 91 smoke alarms. “Some of these homes had smoke alarms that were old and not working,” said Eric Meyers, executive director for the Red Cross of Western Colorado. “It felt pretty good to walk away from a home knowing they were just a little bit safer.”

The Ortega Family in Montrose, CO along with
Red Cross workers Mike Masto and Bill Werner
One of the homes at Northbrook Villas belonged to the Ortega family where Jesus Ortega, his wife and five children now have three new smoke alarms in their home.  As the Red Cross team left the home twelve year old Maria Ortega came out of the house saying, “My dad does not speak English but he wanted me to say thank you to the Red Cross for making our home safer.”

You are welcome, Maria, the Red Cross was happy to do it.

Story and photos by Bill Fortune/American Red Cross
More photos are on Flickr at 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

September Lunch and Learn: Iran's Revolutionary Past and Uncertain Future

Tehran, as viewed from the Modares Expressway (wikimedia commons)
As an undergraduate, Jonathan Pinckney began what would become a years-long endeavor to better understand the complex history of nonviolent revolution and rebellion in countries around the world, including in Iran. While studying abroad in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, Pinckney, this month's International Services Lunch and Learn speaker, became interested in populist political movements around the world. As he worked toward his graduate and doctorate degrees following the 2011 Arab Spring, Pinckney focused his academic interest on the subject of extra-institutional political uprising, a choice due in no small part to the experiences of close friends in the demonstrations that enabled change across the Middle East.

"I had friends who slept in Tahrir Square, for three weeks, because they wanted to oust Hosni Mubarak" Pinckney said. "Having that close personal connection to the place where I lived, and to see it so transformed by a movement for political change, really fascinated me. I had lived there, not that long before, and I never would have predicted that."

While Pinckney's firsthand experience of the region was in Egypt and with Egyptian friends, the subject of grassroots political agitations remained a focus of his research as a SiĆ© Fellow at the The University of Denver's Korbel School of International Studies. In his studies of nonviolent revolutions, he has extensively studied the history of Iran, a nation with a tradition of nonviolent rebellion dating back to the early 20th century. With its theocratic regime and highly educated population, as well as a complex national identity, the country continues to be a distinct political and cultural presence in the region and the world.

With the achievement of a recent comprehensive deal to prevent a nuclear-enabled Iran, the nation once again presents the rest of the world with more questions than answers. For Pinckney, many clues to Iran's future come from its current political divisions, and an awareness of its revolutionary history.

"What a lot of people don't realize about Iran is that the political elite are actually very divided, and have been since the revolution, over what the Iranian Regime is supposed to be about," Pinckney said. "An impact of the agreement could be to dramatically raise the profile and improve the popularity of moderates like Rouhani and others who are from the more moderate tradition. That's certainly ground for optimism that the deal will have positive impacts on Iranian politics and what Iranian public opinion looks like"

Iran is of particular interest not only to scholars like Pinckney but to humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross. The International Committee of the Red Cross has had a presence in the nation since 1977, working toward the implementation of International Humanitarian Law and helping to reconnect families displaced by the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Optimism that the deal could promote a more open and democratic Iran is particularly hopeful from a humanitarian context, in that it might lead to greater stability and transparency for Iran and the surrounding region.

Pinckney said that he hopes the Lunch and Learn lecture will help shed light on the nation's multifaceted history, its transitional present, and how both can help discern Iran's place in an increasingly globalized future.

"It's a very complex society, actually among the most modern, sophisticated and intellectual societies in the Middle East, with a dramatic history of agitating for greater democracy and greater political rights," Pinckney said. "In a sense, there are a lot of cultural and political similarities between American society, American values and Iranian values and Iranian society."

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Sept. 16, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, by clicking here. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IHL Film Series Presents Dr. Strangelove: EVENT CANCELLED

A scene from 1964's Dr. Strangelove, or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Please check our website, to find out when it will return.

More than a half-century after its original theatrical release, the absurdity and razor-sharp satire of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb still provokes, entertains and frightens. The film, which will be screened at the Red Cross at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9 as part of the International Humanitarian Law Film Series, finds new relevance following the recent deal to curtail Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, and in renewed debates regarding the humanitarian implications of nuclear weapons.

With Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick turns his cinematic lens toward the Cold War era's nuclear paranoia following the Bay of Pigs invasion and escalating tensions between the United States and Soviet Russia. The film begs the same questions today that it did five decades ago: What does it mean to have endless destructive power at one's disposal? What does war mean in a post-nuclear world? Is there actually anyone in charge of keeping us safe from nuclear annihilation?

The film garnered (and lost) four Academy Award nominations for 1964, and laid the groundwork for Kubrick's critically acclaimed, provocative filmmaking career. In confronting
filmgoing audiences of the early '60s with an image of nuclear warfare that was farcical, fearful, and laden with sexual innuendo, Kubrick brought both levity and cynicism to the discussion surrounding nuclear proliferation. As we navigate a world in which nuclear weapons continue to figure in global diplomatic agreements, both the comic and sardonic elements of the film still apply.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a global organization focused on reducing suffering caused  by armed conflict, with a particular focus on protecting non-combatants. This is achieved in part through implementation of International Humanitarian Law. Nuclear weapons raise a number of concerns under International Humanitarian Law. These concerns are primarily related to the impact these weapons can have on civilians and civilian areas, and to their effects on the environment.

The IHL Film Series will use Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove as a springboard to launch a roundtable discussion of nuclear proliferation and International Humanitarian Law immediately following the screening of the film. Snacks will be provided. To RSVP for the film presentation, click here. For more information on the film or the International Humanitarian Law film series, contact Tim Bothe