When Marie Lina McNally, her sons Wilfrid and Georges, and her brother Pierre Louise Pierre-Toussaint, immigrated to the United States four years ago they knew about the global Red Cross network.
In their hometown of Port-Au-Prince, they had seen the Haitian Red Cross in action many times—setting up shelters after a disaster, collecting blood, providing ambulance service, teaching personal hygiene to school children, and more.
Now in the United States, Marie Lina heard about American Red Cross services and programs. She listened intently when people talked about the Red Cross, because she is passionate about helping others. “Mom has always been honored to help people,” says her son Wilfrid.
Volunteering through AmeriCorps
Initially, Marie Lina, followed by Pierre, Georges and Wilfrid, volunteered at the Miami Red Cross chapter as part of the AmeriCorps State and National program. Under the program, nonprofit organizations such as the Red Cross receive grants to recruit, train and place AmeriCorps members in positions that meet critical community needs.
For a year, the four worked as members of the American Red Cross South Florida Region disaster action team, bringing food, shelter, comfort and hope to dozens of Miami residents day or night. They also taught community first aid classes, and participated in the recruitment and training of chapter volunteers.
Staying on as Red Cross Volunteers
As the year 2010 approached, Pierre signed up for a second season with AmeriCorps. Wilfrid, Georges and Marie Lina left the AmeriCorps program but continued with the Red Cross as active volunteers.
Then, on January 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake brought disaster to millions of Haitians. The quake deeply impacted the city of Miami, a city in which the first language of more than five percent of its population is Creole.
The American Red Cross South Florida Region sprang into action. Red Cross Call Centers were activated to help people locate family and friends. Red Cross teams welcomed Haitian evacuees at Miami’s airports, providing food, toothbrushes, diapers and hugs to people who had lost everything except the clothes on their backs.
It took a lot of volunteers to help the thousands of people who called the Miami chapter of the Red Cross after the earthquake, and many volunteers to assist the stream of Haitian evacuees arriving in the United States through Miami’s airports.
Among those volunteers were Pierre, Marie Lina, Georges and Wilfrid—answering telephones, acting as translators and receiving deplaning Haitians. The Red Cross opened around-the-clock shelters for incoming Haitians, locations at which Marie Lina spent several nights as a shelter volunteer.
Service on the USNS Comfort
During one of his college classes, Wilfrid received a text message from the Miami Red Cross saying that the chapter needed to talk to him because something big had happened in his home town in Haiti.
“They told me about the magnitude of the earthquake, the enormity of the damages and asked if we could provide assistance,” he remembers. “The Red Cross didn’t even have to ask—me and my family were ready to help.”
The Red Cross assigned Wilfrid as a translator on the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. He was trained and was on the Comfort headed for Haiti less than a week after the earthquake. For the next three weeks he served not only as a translator, but also provided moral support and helped patients with their daily routines during the humanitarian relief effort that brought medical treatment to more than 1,000 Haitians.
Wilfrid talks about a young Haitian whose face had been mutilated and who had lost both arms and a leg. The young man cried constantly, calling for a father who was not there. Wilfrid put the patient on a cart and asked permission to take him to the top deck.
Asking the patient for his dad’s phone number, Wilfrid dialed. “I have your son with me,” he said to the voice that answered his call. “What, my son is alive?” came a shout. After much crying, Wilfrid was able to get the dad to the closest port, where a Navy helicopter airlifted him to the Comfort to visit his son.
“It was a great reunion,” the Red Cross volunteer comments.
Wilfrid laughs about using his cell phone as a mobile call center. Many of the ship’s patients wanted to talk to members of their families, so Wilfrid activated his phone’s roaming services to connect families. Then the bill came, for close to $2,000.
But he doesn’t laugh about feeling the quakes’ after-shocks from the ship. Or about the 12-14 hour days and not being able to have a peaceful night’s sleep throughout the deployment.
In Wilfrid’s words, the time came when his three-week rotation was ended and he “had to leave.” When he came home he again joined his mother, brother and uncle, providing support as a Red Cross volunteer.
“The Red Cross has become a part of our lives,” he says, “It’s our way of helping people, of giving back to our community.”