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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