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The Red Cross, a Home Away from Home

My uncle always told our family that wherever we go, we must support our community

When an American Red Cross volunteer moves to a new city or town in the United States, often one of the first things they do is join their local Red Cross chapter. The same holds true for volunteers crossing international borders. But for many newcomers to this country, the act of seeking out their local Red Cross in a foreign land holds even greater significance. This was the case for two recent arrivals to New York City.

From Senegal to Manhattan: ‘Born into the Red Cross’

When Adboulaye Tall left his native Senegal to live in Manhattan a little over a year ago, he not only left his country; he also put more than 10 years of volunteer work with the Senegalese Red Cross behind him.

Originally from Thies, the country’s third-largest city, Tall was introduced to the Red Cross at an early age. It was his uncle, a former president of the Senegalese Red Cross, who taught him about the importance of community service and of the Red Cross mission.

“I was born into the Red Cross,” Tall said. “My uncle always told our family that wherever we go, we must support our community. As a result, we all volunteered for the Red Cross.”

Employed in Senegal as a chemical industry surveyor, Tall dedicated almost all his free time to his volunteer work. He started off as a CPR instructor but quickly branched out into water/sanitation, community preparedness, psychological first aid and shelter management. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, located in nearby Dakar, facilitated much of his training and enabled him to become a leader in many of these areas.

After major flooding ravaged large areas of Senegal in the summer of 2009, Tall put many of his skills to use during a large-scale relief operation, working as a team leader at a shelter in his home region.

In 2010, Tall made a life-changing decision. After applying for and winning a green card through the U.S. green card lottery, he decided to move to New York City, where he had family living in Harlem.

After settling into his new home and signing up for language classes in his neighborhood, Tall’s next step was to contact his local Red Cross. Tall is now training to become a logistics volunteer with the Greater New York Red Cross, where he will be providing assistance to residents displaced by disasters in the city.

“In Senegal, volunteers feel much pride when they wear the Red Cross emblem,” said Tall. “Wearing it here will be a great thing.”

From Guyana to Queens: A New Chapter, A New Opportunity

As Tall was making his way to the U.S., another long-time Red Cross volunteer was preparing to make a similar trip to New York.

Guyanese resident Timothy Fraser originally joined the Red Cross in 2002 through his National Society’s Youth Program. He first became involved with its “Together We Can” program, a local Red Cross HIV/AIDS awareness initiative. He began as a peer educator but was almost immediately promoted to instructor trainer, teaching future educators how to convey to teenagers the importance of living healthy lifestyles.

This early Red Cross experience actually proved invaluable in the development of his career— secondary school teacher.

“The Red Cross helped me become a better teacher,” Fraser said. “They really helped me explore my potential.”

Yet Fraser’s Red Cross work did not end with “Together We Can.” Like Tall, Frasier eventually took on more volunteer responsibilities, such as blood donation programs, first aid support, community preparedness and even disaster response.

Also like Tall, Fraser responded to a major natural disaster—the 2005 floods that devastated the coast of Guyana. The Red Cross response to those floods was the largest relief operation in Guyanese Red Cross history.

In late 2010 Fraser embarked on a new chapter in his life, moving from his nation’s capital of Georgetown, Guyana, to Queens, New York, where his father had been living for several years. Because of the difficulties involved in transferring credentials, he initially put his teaching aspirations on hold in order to find employment. But the move did not prevent him from continuing his Red Cross work.

After meeting with Red Cross representatives in New York, he decided to train to become a Queens Disaster Action Team volunteer; this group provides humanitarian relief to Queens residents affected by local disasters such as apartment fires.

When volunteers like Fraser and Tall make life-changing journeys such as these, the act of reconnecting with the Red Cross serves to recapture some familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar place.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.