Wednesday, July 14, 2021

American Red Cross Volunteer Sadiq Saffarini: Born to Be a Humanitarian

By Jenny Chang, Communications Volunteer

Sadiq Saffarini, 30, lives in Washington, D.C., and works as a research assistant. He joined the American Red Cross as a Disaster Action Team member in the summer of 2019. 

Sadiq helping during floods
in New Orleans in May 2021
(Calcasieu and East Baton Rouge)
Sadiq started deploying during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most stayed indoors to stay safe from contracting COVID-19, Sadiq, a committed volunteer from the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake region, made it his mission to help prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of national disasters on behalf of the American Red Cross. 

Over the past year, Sadiq has been busy responding to several national disaster relief operations, including hurricanes in Louisiana, wildfires in California, floods in Kentucky, and tornadoes in Delaware. Each mission has lasted anywhere from three to 13 weeks, but that did not stop him from answering the call to be there for people in need during a national crisis.

Trained to handle and manage Damage Assessment, Sheltering, Distribution of Emergency Supply, Shelter Residence Transition, Feeding, and First Aid, Sadiq has shown true heroism and compassion for others that is inspiring to many. 

The Red Cross spent some time speaking with Sadiq to find out exactly what drives him to be such an altruistic humanitarian. 

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How did you first come across the Red Cross?
Since I was a kid, I have always been inspired by the mission of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. These organizations have always provided humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war. It also represented hope, care, and relief – a feeling of reassurance following stressful times. Growing up as a Palestinian, I have personally witnessed war and human suffering from displacement, dispossession, and restriction on movement. However, with all these glooming calamities, what preserved hope in me at the time was the compassion and the selflessness of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. They were my superheroes growing up. 


"I have always been inspired by the principles of the Red Cross – Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality. 

Those principles have always and continue to inspire me today."


When did your work with the Red Cross begin?

I have been with the Red Cross since 2011. My journey began during my undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom. I initially started with the British Red Cross for a couple of years, and that’s where I started my disaster relief training and CPR. Years later, I joined the American Red Cross. 

I find the Red Cross a gateway to humanitarianism and selflessness and the seven principles are an important aspect of my life. My aim has always been to serve disadvantaged groups and try to make a change for good in society. I am honored to be part of this humanitarian organization, founded to provide humanitarian aid and relief to those suffering crises. To me, the work of the Red Cross is beyond heroic.

Tell us about a memorable mission you had with the Red Cross?

My first official major operation actually holds a very special memory for me. In 2013, I was sent to Yucatan, Mexico for Hurricane Barbara as part of the British Red Cross. On that mission, I was able to meet various Red Crossers from different countries, America, and Canada. My deployment lasted five weeks and at that time, we helped to assist children in an orphanage. We also helped build public libraries, sheltered and fed people, and even taught English in schools – something I did when I was younger for the children in refugee camps. Meeting all these international Red Crossers for my first mission was just one incredible experience. 

Can you tell us about one of your missions over the past year with the American Red Cross?

One of my most recent deployments was in Kentucky. I was on the disaster relief operation for five weeks. I was called to help assist thousands of evacuees, who lost everything to the spring floods. It is worth mentioning for some areas, this was the most significant flooding in the last 50 to 60 years or more. 

Sadiq and a fellow Red Crosser doing damage
assessment in Breathitt County, Kentucky (March 2021)

On the ground, I was part of the Information and Planning and Damage Assessment team, which means I was tasked with setting up and managing various recovery service centers across the eastern parts of the state. However, what gave me hope and joy through all the destruction was how the locals still remained positive and warm despite what they went through. The humility and the fortitude of the people was incredibly inspiring.

In June 2021, I deployed to Miami, Florida to support and aid families affected by the tragic Surfside building collapse. Persistently working day and night at the family resource center in Bal Harbour – we helped in opening cases and developing long-term recovery plans and working with FEMA on coordinating resources and referrals regarding recovery for the families affected, including those who have lost loved ones. In comparison to working on previous natural disaster responses, working on a mass casualty operation can be poignant and touching, invoking various emotions and feelings especially when working with the families who endured displacement and sadly the loss of their loved ones.

What are your personal challenges as a Red Cross Volunteer during these disaster relief operations?

My biggest challenge is seeing people suffering and hearing their stories, which often breaks my heart. While we see terrible things on television or read about them in the newspaper, it is hard to see them first hand. However, these feelings are also what motivates me to help. 


"I know that what we, as Red Cross volunteers, bring to these people is comfort and sincere care during what could possibly be one of the hardest times of their lives. "


Working on disasters reminds me of the importance of gratitude and humility. I am also empowered by the camaraderie amongst the Red Crossers I work with. 

Sadiq and fellow Red Crosser Rick Way
supporting a family resource center in Florida. (July 2021)
Is there a person that you helped as a Red Cross volunteer whose story stands out for you?
Yes, during my time in Louisiana when I was in New Orleans for five weeks working under the Shelter Residence Transition team as a caseworker. I was tasked with helping hurricane survivors transition back into the community after sheltering for months with the Red Cross. 

There, I met an elderly lady who was on dialysis and she had cancer. She was also blind and in a wheelchair. She had actually been displaced by two hurricanes – Marco and Laura. I was assigned to her as a Shelter Residence Transition caseworker, which meant I got to meet and talk to her daily. She often told me she was happy I was her caseworker and that she found comfort in my voice. 

As we became closer, she began to provide some more personal information to me and confided in me about some additional personal and private issues she was experiencing. I was able to take some of this information and share her concerns with the shelter manager, and we were able to provide further support, including health services. She may not have shared as much as she did, had me and her not established such a close bond and trust.
Meeting this woman had an impact on me because I found her courageous even in the face of her unfortunate circumstances. I also felt a great sense of joy knowing that she felt safe and comfortable with me to open up about what was going on. According to her, I was the right person, at the right place, in the right moment to support her with more than just being displaced, but other serious issues she was going through. 

How has the Red Cross adapted to providing disaster relief during the pandemic?
Since the pandemic started, the Red Cross has made the safety and wellbeing of volunteers, staffers, and the communities we serve of paramount importance. COVID-19 has definitely had an impact on disaster relief operations, however, the Red Cross has adapted new working guidelines to help keep everybody safe. The Red Cross also implemented new safety protocols across all operations including wearing face masks, taking temperatures, practicing social distancing, maintaining good cleaning practices, and even allowing volunteers to help with virtual responses. The reality is emergencies and natural disasters don’t stop, even during a pandemic, and neither does the work of the Red Cross.

Shelter Residence Transition Casework
in New Orleans (December 2020) 
What does a virtual response look like?
Good question. I am going to use a real-life response as an example to help explain. Think of a family that has been displaced by a home fire. In that scenario, to help them we would first need to virtually connect with the family displaced by the fire. The team will typically introduce themselves, check on their wellbeing, provide them comfort over the phone, and engage disaster mental health services if needed. Once the intake is complete and the identity of the family members have been verified, we will provide them with a case number and refer them to our recovery team. So the initial process can actually all be done virtually, however, in instances where five or more families are displaced by a local fire or disaster, our local Disaster Action Team would respond in person at volunteers’ discretion – if they would like our services. Volunteers on the scene will also be supported by virtual team members, so we can provide the support in a prompt manner.

Does your family support your strong commitment to the Red Cross and humanitarian work?
Overall, yes. My family has always recognized and empowered the humanitarianism in me from the time I was a young boy. They’ve been very supportive and appreciative of my service and the time I have committed to the Red Cross. My family understands and realizes the importance of the Red Cross for me. but they do remain legitimately concerned when I am out on deployments, especially during COVID, so I stay connected with them frequently. 

Sadiq is one of our incredible regional Red Cross volunteers that has been an active volunteer, even during the pandemic. With the help of these humanitarian heroes, the Red Cross was still able to fulfill the mission to help thousands of people who have lost everything due to fires, floods, and other natural disasters, and provide lifesaving services in 2020, on top of staying safe from COVID-19. 

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Giving Help and Giving Back: The Red Cross and its Fight Against COVID-19

By Jake Verga, Communications Volunteer


It is an honor to work side-by-side with service members whose kind and caring manner creates a positive atmosphere. I observe people genuinely happy and relieved when leaving the clinic. That tells the story of a job well done. 'Hope remains eternal' is my message. I feel it each time I arrive at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”

Marianne Wyble, Red Cross Volunteer, Walter Reed


On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 as a global pandemic. And just two days later, the President of the United States declared that very pandemic a national emergency.

Now, a full year after COVID-19 swept across America, with a nationwide vaccination effort underway and case numbers beginning to grow smaller, things seem to be getting better. But a lot has happened since last March. 

COVID-19 has had far-reaching effects on almost every aspect of life, from education to grocery shopping. But periods of hardship help highlight the empathy and perseverance that make the human experience unique and special. Nothing exemplifies this more than those volunteering in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region, who over the past year have dedicated their time helping those who need it most. 

One of the most active volunteer locations for the Red Cross during the pandemic has been Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Walter Reed’s Senior Station Manager, Kristen Farren, who helps coordinate volunteers, spoke about what they have been doing to make a difference. 

In conjunction with medical center staff, volunteers have been on-site, working to provide cloth masks to patients and visitors to the hospital. Over the course of many months, thousands of masks were brought in and distributed to those who needed them. Kristen couldn’t stress enough how the volunteers and administrators at the Red Cross are extremely grateful for those who went out of their way to donate. On top of help with the masks, volunteers helped sanitize essential items such as clipboards and pens, making the visitation process safer. 

The Daughters of the American Revolution generously donated cloth
face coverings to the Walter Reed team in the spring of 2020.

As well as mask distribution, the Red Cross also partnered with a nonprofit organization called Feed the Fight. Feed the Fight is based in the D.C. Metro Area and began as a neighborhood effort that ended up growing into a multi-state network of volunteers. The organization works to both help patronize local restaurants, while also helping support front-line workers. Using monetary donations, the organization purchases meals from local restaurants and then donates these meals to healthcare workers who are fighting the pandemic every day. The Red Cross helped organize and distribute these meals in March, April, and May, when the country was experiencing its most tumultuous period as the virus was rapidly spreading. These meals made the staff feel very appreciated.

The Walter Reed team delivered lunches from Mission BBQ and Jetties
to the staff thanks to Feed the Fight during the pandemic.

Since the start of the year, Red Cross volunteers at Walter Reed have expanded their duties, and are now assisting the Covid vaccination initiative. The Red Cross has around five people each day who work on administrative tasks, such as organizing essential paperwork for the vaccination process, as well as helping patients and providing snacks and water. It has been great for both the hospital, as well as for the volunteers. Before being able to help in the vaccination effort though, local Red Cross administrators had to seek approval from Command and Red Cross National Headquarters to have the volunteers on-site and ensure that all volunteers have the proper equipment to match that of the staff working at the clinic. 

Janice Chance, a Maryland native, gold star mother, retired nurse, and long-time Red Cross volunteer, has been working at Walter Reed reflects on her work.

Red Cross volunteers, Janice (left) and Mindy, on location at the
COVID vaccination site helping to sanitize and distribute clipboards and paperwork.

“I get the chance to work alongside other Red Cross workers. And also service members, because they have them on duty as well. Whatever the need is, that's what we do. One minute I’m putting together forms, the next I’m cleaning clipboards and pens. I could be giving directions, helping people any way I can. I am so grateful and blessed to be able to help men and women get the vaccine. If I can do something to help and expedite the process, I will do it. I will do whatever I can. Because that’s how things get better.” 

Volunteers providing support at the vaccination site, helping sign patients in,
assisting in the observation area, providing snacks and water, and checking them out
after they have completed the process.

The more recent Red Cross initiatives don’t stop at aiding the vaccination efforts in person. Volunteers have assisted with making phone calls to hospital beneficiaries to let them know about the availability of the vaccine. Other phone calls have been made in conjunction with the Armed Forces National Day of Service, checking in on service members to tell them about possible vaccine availability through the Veterans Affairs office. Making personal contact with people via the phone has been an incredibly useful tool to get information out to those who need it about the vaccine. 

“My calls to Walter Reed patients over the age of 75 gave me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. I could tell immediately that I was making a significant contribution after so many months of not volunteering in person at Walter Reed,” says Stephen Peth, a Red Cross Group Leader and volunteer at Walter Reed.  


Many of the patients were totally unaware of the opportunity to get a vaccination and required a lot of time to explain exactly what they needed to do. Some of the patients were in their 90s and a couple over 100. And, they were so appreciative. Each call made my day and I was eager to dial the next.”

- Stephen Peth, Red Cross Group Leader and Walter Reed Volunteer 

As the pandemic begins to ease up, but still continues to affect our lives, it is always heartening to see the difference a single person can make when they decide to help those around them. We appreciate every one of our volunteers who set out to make the world a better place, especially during such trying times.

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You can join us too!

  • To learn more about the Service to the Armed Forces programs, click here
  • Make a difference in your community. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 
  • To make a donation to your Red Cross, click here.
  • Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Hero of the Day

By: Andrew Klein, Communications Volunteer 

Albert Jennings stood in the grass in his pajamas and bare feet watching smoke and fire spread from near his kitchen to other parts of the wood-frame house. 

Minutes ago, he and his family – his wife Alanda, his five-year-old daughter Aiden, and his two-year-old son, August 
– like him, were asleep in their beds.

The fire was spreading rapidly. The fire department had not yet arrived.

All photos courtesy of Albert Jennings


“Watching my house on fire was most upsetting. But, I felt a sense of relief. My family was safe.”

- Albert Jennings


Aiden told the story, “The hot water heater had stopped working and Dad put water on the stove so that we could have a warm bath. But, instead, we were tired and went to bed. The pot was left on the stove.” 

Prior to the fire, a smoke alarm had been installed in their home by the Baltimore County Fire Department as part of the American Red Cross “Sound the Alarm” campaign. As part of this campaign, the Red Cross teams up with local fire departments all over the country to install smoke alarms where they are missing or no longer working and provide preparedness information. The free alarms – complete with installation – come with the admonition for the family to have a fire escape plan and practice it. 

Aiden had pushed everyone in the family to develop and then practice the plan. Not knowing at the time how important this would be.

When the smoke from the fire set off the alarm, it woke Aiden. The five-year-old sprang into action. She went to her parent’s bedroom. 

“I shook Dad awake,” said Aiden. She then woke her brother. 

Following the rehearsed plan, everyone escaped. And when outside they all met in the pre-arranged spot “by a tree” outside the house. Everyone was safe.

As the fire trucks arrived that night, Albert sent Alanda and the kids down the street to Grandma’s house.

Aiden said it all.


"We were okay... because we had a safe place to be."

-Aiden Jennings, 5

Albert said he saw Aiden as, “the hero of the day.”


"Without the smoke detector and an evacuation plan... who knows. 

Kitchens could be replaced, not loved ones.”

- Albert Jennings


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Every day, seven people die in home fires, most often in homes without working smoke alarms. That’s why the American Red Cross launched our Home Fire Campaign in 2014 to save lives. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of the campaign. Through our home visits, the Red Cross installed more than 2.1 million free smoke alarms and prepared more than 2.3 million people for home fires. 

Home fires claim seven lives every day, but you can help change that. You can help keep your family safe – follow these 2 simple steps to help prepare your family to escape from a home fire.

1. Practice a 2-Minute Fire Drill 
Practice your 2-minute drill (from home to a safe meeting place) at least twice a year. Everyone in your household should know two ways to escape from each room in your home. In a real fire, remember to get out, stay out and call 911. Never go back inside for people, pets, or things. Download your escape plan worksheet here.

2. Test Your Smoke Alarms Monthly
Test your smoke alarms monthly by pressing the test buttonYou should hear three beeps, letting you know the alarm is working. Don't hear the beeps? Then it's time to change the batteries, if your model requires them. If your smoke alarm is 10 years old, it's time to get a new alarm because the sensor becomes less sensitive over time. Learn more about smoke alarms here.

Monday, May 17, 2021

I Am Asian and An American Red Cross Volunteer

by Jenny Chang, Communications Volunteer

I am an Asian-American. I rejoined the American Red Cross during a time of major unrest and instability towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community because beyond what I look like, I am a person. And as a human being, I have an interest in helping and connecting with other people in times of need, regardless of their race, religion or economic background.

Being a part of the Red Cross allows all people to be there to support one another during a crisis—plain and simple. Why? Because a crisis affects everybody whether it be a natural disaster or a community fire, and in times like these most people just want to help each other.

Jenny (with friend Shay Fu) as a Disaster Action Team Member
with Red Cross New York Region in 2010

Personally, it hurts me to know that in the past year, people of my own racial background have been targets of blame for what is essentially a time of crisis with the coronavirus spreading around the world. I have become very saddened by these reactions that are without merit. COVID-19 is an international public health crisis causing devastation to 219 countries, affecting more than 148 million people and caused the deaths of more than 3 million people. It requires a global response to stop its spread and people helping people to bring hope to one another.

As a humanitarian, I want to be a source of positive connection during these challenging times. What I’ve always valued about being part of the Red Cross was the fact that volunteers literally came from all kinds of backgrounds. However, the one thing we all had in common was the need to band together and be there for people in need, whatever and wherever that need may be. No questions asked.

In fact these beliefs are based on two of the seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross:
  • ImpartialityIt makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavors to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.
  • UniversalityThe Red Cross is a worldwide institution in which all societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other.
I missed being around people who believe in these principles and who are open, filled with good, and are just wonderful human beings. These are the people I relate to, no matter what I look like. I am proud to be Asian, proud to be a humanitarian, and honored to be part of an organization dedicated to helping everyone in need.

I know that while I am interacting with the public through the Red Cross, I may come across people – even those that I might be trying to help – who might think otherwise. But that is OK and it won’t stop me from continuing to support them because if they ever are in need of Red Cross assistance, I also know that particular crisis is about them, their need and their losses. And I would want them to understand that I am there for them, no matter what they may feel.

For me, rejoining the Red Cross and interacting with the public as a humanitarian is my way of telling society that I may be Asian, but I am also a person who chooses to be there to help others through their darkest days. And no matter the circumstances, I will extend my hand to help everyone and hopefully bring comfort that we can get through this together.


May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a month where we recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

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You can join the Red Cross too. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Invasion: Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition

 By: Andrew Klein, Communications Volunteer          


“A few weeks after Country A crossed the border into Country B, an international mission, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, was sent to the region to evaluate and report on the crisis. The situation in northeast Country B is undeniably grim. However, the worst may be yet to come.

More than 2 million people live in northeast Country B. Since fighting began, over 215,000 people have been driven from their homes. While roughly half of these internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned, more than 100,000 people remained displaced, including tens of thousands of women and children” 

Country A believes strongly their actions are justified because Country B’s northern provinces have been hiding places for rebels who kill and maim in their effort to overthrow Country A’s government. Country B sees this as an oil-rich land grab with limited evidence of the accusation about the rebels. (A fictional account derived from reporting on real events)”

What really is justified under the law? What happens to all the displaced people? Whose responsibility is it to keep the utilities working, food available, and law and order in place? Who pays for this? Is this a humanitarian crisis? If so, will others in the region help? 

Many questions and many reference documents from conventions, treaties, and law. Diplomats and lawyers will be needed. Aid and assistance will be of paramount importance to the hundreds of thousands seeking to survive.

How is this resolved?

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members, and staff worldwide, and was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering.

International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war. It is a branch of international law which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities, and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.
International humanitarian law, like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, is inspired by considerations of humanity and the mitigation of human suffering. It comprises a set of rules, established by treaty or custom, that seeks to protect persons and property/objects that are, or may be, affected by armed conflict, and limits the rights of parties to a conflict to use methods and means of warfare of their choice. 

Sources of international law include international agreements – the Geneva Conventions, customary international law, general principles of nations, and case law. It defines the conduct and responsibilities of belligerent nations, neutral nations, and individuals engaged in warfare, in relation to each other and to protected persons, usually meaning non-combatants. It is designed to balance humanitarian concerns and military necessity, and subjects warfare to the rule of law by limiting its destructive effect and mitigating human suffering.
As in almost any disagreement, each side – or multiple sides  has their own perspective, rationale, and reasoning which justifies, to them, what they did or did not do – or why what others did is not right. It is not hard to imagine the above scenario is viewed very differently by all the direct and indirect parties to these events. Often, the United Nations or similar international bodies gather representatives of the parties in conflict, allowing debate and legal considerations to be aired. These are complex, emotional, and politicized gatherings. And while almost all parties subscribe to the rule of law, interpretation of events and the law produce vigorous, even boisterous, discussions.

The American Red Cross, in partnership with the Clara Barton Competition Corporation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), organizes and sponsors a competition to continue the spirit of Clara Barton’s work – the founder of the American Red Cross.

Some participants of the Clara Barton IHL Competition

The Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition is a simulation-based, experiential legal competition designed to expose rising professionals to the practice of IHL and to real-world challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict. The Clara Barton IHL Competition is open to students currently pursuing Juris Doctor (J.D.), Bachelor of Laws (LL.B), or Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees at law schools in North, Central, and South America, as well as students attending United States and Canadian military academies and institutions. The 2021 Competition was held remotely during the weekends of  March 13-14, and March 20.

Final Round of the Competition

The Competition tests participants’ knowledge of international humanitarian law and public international law, as well as their ability to present, advocate for, and defend legal positions. This year, four teams made it to the verbal, debate-style face-off semi-finals. These were American University, the US Military Academy, the University of Buenos Aires, and the Loyola School of Law. The University of Buenos Aires was judged the champion. There are essay competitions that also brought some law schools, college undergraduates, and smart high schoolers into the international law discussions around topics of Child Soldiers and Girl’s Education.

The University of Buenos Aires team after finding out they won!

It is a challenging world out there and this competition is a chance to see and hear from the scholars who are likely to be part of the future of war and peace, justice, and the rule of law.


International Committee of the Red Cross:

The 2021 Competition Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition:

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

American Red Cross Missing Maps Program

 By: Medha Gaddam, Communications Volunteer

In the fall of 2019, Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 Atlantic hurricane and the most intense tropical storm in history to hit the Bahamas, left vast devastation behind. Knocking out power, telecommunications, and water, the disaster destroyed around 13,000 homes, leaving approximately 70,000 people homeless. 

Exacerbating the situation, many areas were not well mapped out. This left first responders helpless in some cases as they did not know the original number of buildings and roads to accurately analyze the true extent of the damage. After an urgent call, around 107 mappers mapped 9,000 buildings and 16,000 roads in five days through the Missing Maps initiative. Consequently, first responders were able to scope the environment and carry out response measures effectively. This is just one example of the impact the Missing Maps program has had on preparedness efforts for vulnerable communities. 

“The original inspiration for the Missing Maps program was the work done by mapping volunteers after the Haiti earthquake in 2010”, says Rachel Levine, the Missing Maps Program Coordinator. 


When first responders are not aware of where people live or where buildings and other infrastructure are located, it is impossible to gauge the impact of disasters and help citizens as effectively as possible. 


In 2014, the Missing Maps partnership was created to mend these gaps by mapping the world’s vulnerable communities. 

“The founding members of this program are the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). [They] thought well, what if we didn’t have to do that data scramble? What if we worked with communities early, and supported preparedness programming?” 

Six years later, Rachel believes that the biggest change in the program is an immense increase in the number of volunteers and knowledge.


Missing Maps is a collective. Our founding members are now joined by about 15 other NGO’s, and each organization contributes some magic that helps us reach our shared goals.


Art Shaw, Partnership Officer for the American Red Cross of the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region explains that the mission of Missing Maps is, “to create digital maps that are up-to-date so that either before, during, or after a disaster, people have an idea of where the roads are, where the buildings are, and how many people are living in each building”. 

Volunteers for Missing Maps range from young students starting as new mappers, progressing into event leads. These volunteers do their work through Open Street Map (OSM). 

“[Open Street Map] is an open-source environment where you go in and mark buildings, streams, and roads in a certain area. It works its way down to someone who lives in the village, who can pull up the information that the volunteers saved. They can then go door to door and put addresses on the buildings, tell us how many people lived in the buildings, etc.” states Art. 

Mapping can be done individually or in groups through events called mapathons. Thus far, over 1500 mapathon events have been conducted in 65 countries around the world. The most recent Missing Maps event in our local region was held on January 19, 2021. It consisted of 3 Mapathon Sessions with participants from countries around the world including America, EMEA, and APAC/Japan. 

“[It] is something we offer our corporate clients to get virtually engaged with Red Cross, and with McAfee, we did three programs in one day, which is unusual!” 

There were 295 attendees who by the end, had mapped 3,830 buildings - a record number for one day. 

Another case where Missing Maps aided affected communities in recovering was in 2014, after the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Around 1,600 mappers worked to map these areas on OSM, resulting in 4.7 million edits to the system. However, areas change with time and multiple homes, roads, and other infrastructure were left unmapped. Therefore, Missing Maps volunteers visited Leyte and Tacloban (two communities in the Philippines) in November of that year and worked to map government buildings, clinics, and other essential areas in the islands. The villages had changed once again three years later, when volunteers visualized the islands using UAVs (drones), processed the images using OpenDroneMap (ODM), and finally uploaded them into OSM. 

In 2017, when Hurricane Maria - the worst storm in 80 years - hit Puerto Rico, it resulted in major damage to the infrastructure of the island. 

Art explains, “The coast, the big cities, and the resorts were all mapped very well. However, the interiors of the island were not mapped at all. Red Cross was able to identify where cell phone service was knocked out by using OSM data, and we were able to set up satellite dishes as well as create mobile hotspots in those places. Citizens were then able to call their relatives and loved ones to let them know that they were safe.” 


Today, the Missing Maps initiative has grown to 72,000 volunteers, who over the years have mapped a total of 37 million buildings and around 1 million km of roads in OSM. 


The most recent organizations to join the effort are the German Red Cross and CROWD2MAP Tanzania. 

When asked about her personal experience as the Missing Maps Program Coordinator and her thoughts as a volunteer, Rachel says, “I started with the American Red Cross as a volunteer mapper before the Missing Maps project was founded. When I returned to the DC area after grad school, the American Red Cross had started the project more formally and I joined the GIS team to support. So I would say the project had had a big impact on me personally! To anyone looking to get involved in an idea they find interesting, I highly recommend volunteering! Most projects have opportunities for volunteers to make real impact, and it’s a great learning opportunity. I’m particularly inspired by our young people volunteers. They have really made this project their own and I love watching them progress from new mapper to event leads!” 

You can sign up to volunteer for Missing Maps at

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Service to the Armed Forces: Helping Military Members, Veterans, and their Families

Written by: Stephanie Babyak, Communications Volunteer

SAF Regional Specialist, Tommy Bolin  
Senior SAF Regional Specialist Tommy Bolin spends his work day helping military members, veterans, and their families. One vet struggles with PTSD, a wife needs to reach her husband posted overseas to let him know of a death in the family, another needs housing. However, in late Fall 2020, a most unique case landed on his desk, a mystery involving a World War II Navy war hero and an all-out effort to reunite his family with his personal effects. 

Two years ago, Chris Reilly’s daughter, an officer in the U.S. Army, completed a tour of duty at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State and moved home to her parents while she attended graduate school. The moving van shipping her belongings and those of other soldiers traveled the country from the West Coast to the final destination of the Reilly home in Delaware, making stops along the way. At the Reilly's, everything remaining in the truck was unloaded. 

As Chris and his daughter culled through the piles of boxes, they uncovered a large, leather briefcase that neither of them recognized. Inside the unlocked briefcase were letters the Navy vet had written to his finance, along with his passport, driver's license, and military medals and citations, including a Silver Star Medal, the U.S. Armed Forces decoration for valor in combat.


“If you read those letters, you’re reliving history and understanding what it was like to be in World War II because, as you know, most of the World War II vets are no longer with us.”


Army veteran Chris Reilly 
Determined to return the Navy hero’s personal effects to his family, Chris contacted agency after agency 
 the moving company, insurance company, Navy Personnel Command, Veterans of Foreign War, the Veterans Administration – all with no luck. Because Chris was not family and lacked legal authorization, privacy laws prevented the agencies from sharing information. Then someone suggested Chris contact the American Red Cross.

“I called the 1-800 RED CROSS number, they assigned me a case number, and said someone would contact me," said Chris. 

The briefcase contained the Navy hero's personal effects,
including a Silver Star medal and letters to his fiancé.

Based in Wilmington, Tommy Bolin was first assigned the case. Then, the San Diego Red Cross office also got involved as the WWII vet, who died in 1993, was from San Diego. Working with the Red Cross and a genealogist, Chris finally connected with the Navy veteran’s nephew who accepted the briefcase, letters, and medals.

This story is an example of the many ways the American Red Cross helps military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. 

Since 9/11, the Red Cross has served more than 1 million military families. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers provide home comforts and critical services on bases and in military hospitals around the world. We support military families during deployments and emergencies and we continue serving our nation’s veterans after their service ends. 

NC&GCR Red Crossers distributed stockings from Operation Quiet
Comfort and the Red Cross at a holiday event at Walter Reed
National Military Medical Center.

The Service to the Armed Forces program in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region (NC&GCR) supports military personnel, veterans, and families on 27 separate military installations in the region, at five Veteran’s Administration Hospitals, and throughout the community. Key installations supported include: Fort Meade, Quantico Marine Corps Base, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Andrews, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the US Naval Academy, and the Pentagon. 

There is a team of over 1,000 active volunteers supporting the SAF mission throughout the region. 

Volunteers range from civilian to active duty, from administrative through PhD, RN and MD who practice to the full extent of their credentials. During the summer months, we add a robust program of youth volunteers with our VolunTeen programs. 

Here are some of the key ways the American Red Cross helps military and their families: 

  • Last fall, volunteers delivered Girl Scout
    cookies, stress balls comfort kits, and
    e-cards  to raise morale and support our
    military partner and veteran communities.
    Financial Assistance: The Red Cross partners with the military aid societies to help service members and their families get emergency financial assistance 24/7. 
  • Information and Referral Services: The Red Cross provides counseling, guidance, information, referrals and other social services for all military personnel and their families. 
  • Deployment Services: Before, during, and after deployments, the Red Cross provides training information, and support for military members and their families. 
  • Resiliency/Reconnection Workshops: The American Red Cross has developed the Reconnection Workshops for all military families to assist them with managing the challenges of reintegration, and to
    help them build resiliency skills that make it easier to rebound from setbacks and difficulties. Click here to learn more.
  • Holidays for Heroes: Holidays for Heroes offers individuals, corporations and community entities (church/temple groups, schools, community centers, etc.) the opportunity to support the unique work that the American Red Cross in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region is doing for the local military and veteran community. Click here to learn more.

The American Red Cross has also launched a new online, self-service tool called the Hero Care Network. This free tool gives military families more flexibility and expanded access to help during times of crisis by allowing them to quickly communicate emergency messages 24/7 via computer, tablet, or even by smartphone. 

To download the free Hero Care App to get access vital emergency and non-emergency resources for military members, veterans and military families.  Or text: "GETHEROCARE" to 90999 


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You can join us too!

  • To learn more about the Service to the Armed Forces programs, click here
  • Make a difference in your community. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 
  • Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you.