Tuesday, June 23, 2015

World Refugee Day - Community Outreach on a Global Scale

Written by: Reed Mszar, volunteer

On June 9 in Silver Spring, MD and on June 13 in Arlington, VA a group of American Red Cross volunteers from the National Capital Region partnered with regional organizations, including the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Lutheran Social Services (LSS). Together, they took part in recognizing World Refugee Day, internationally recognized on June 20. In honor of the thousands of immigrants who have made the United States their home, a third event will be held on June 26 in Washington D.C.

It is safe to say that the World Refugee Day events were an emotional and rewarding experience, not only for the refugees in attendance, but also for the volunteers who helped facilitate the activities. One of the special opportunities provided at the Washington Suburban Resettlement Center in Silver Spring included free Skype phone calls. This allowed refugees to contact family members in their home countries. Red Cross volunteers also distributed useful information and giveaways during the events, including first aid kits. Further material was provided about the Restoring Family Links program, a Red Cross mission aimed toward helping thousands of refugees around the world locate loved ones separated by disaster or war. Contact information was collected for those who demonstrated need for or expressed interest in the program to allow a caseworker to follow up with them. Several brave refugees took advantage of an open mic opportunity that was provided to candidly speak about their past experiences including reasons for coming to America.

It is events like these that are extremely powerful in the way they bring the entire community together to help others. Rebecca Callahan, a Public Affairs Liaison for the Red Cross in the National Capital Region, touched on this issue after speaking with several of the refugees. Ms. Callahan said, “Two refugees I spoke with, one from Haiti and another from Honduras, have been here for nearly 3 years and are both finally beginning to feel like first generation Americans.” Some obstacles refugees often face include learning to call 9-1-1 in an emergency, how to pay for food and transportation and how to operate a computer – skills many Americans often take for granted.

It was remarkable to experience the range of emotions in the room, from pain to determination and hope. Ms. Callahan described her experiences at these events by saying, “It is extremely humbling speaking with people who have been in refugee camps bordering on chaos and in constant hunger, danger and excruciating pain.” Callahan, who has an extensive history helping those in need and easing the transition to citizenship for many refugees, notes that the opportunity she has had volunteering with the Red Cross has given clarity to her life. With the help of the volunteers at the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region and other relief organizations, we can ease the pain for those seeking a new and safer life. 

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