by Bernadette Casey, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Greater New York Red Cross volunteer Ogochukwu Ononiwu is of Nigerian descent and was born in Ravenna, Italy. She came to the U.S. in 2013. And while she enjoys all that there is to do in Brooklyn she adds with a laugh and an ever-present smile “I miss the amazing food in Italy.”
In September 2019 Ononiwu started as an intern with the Restoring Family Link program (RFL), at the American Red Cross. RFL offers a number of services including helping connect family members separated by disaster, conflict or migration and helping those accepted as an immigrant to another country gather the required documentation to travel to the country welcoming them.
Ononiwu started by doing outreach and entering information into the RFL database.
“We would take all the information and try to help you find the person you are looking for. It’s about being patient and taking your time in processing the information. It can take weeks or months. We keep cases open because new information or documentation can come in and we can do more research.”
For an international search, The American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC will send information to the Red Cross or Red Crescent national society in the specific country involved to begin the search.
One case Ononiwu worked on reunited a man in France with his brothers. In another, grandchildren in Europe were trying to connect with their grandmother in New York. Unfortunately the grandmother had passed away, but the family was grateful because the Red Cross had provided them with closure and helped make funeral arrangements.
“When you see your case coming to a close it’s a good thing even if it is a little sad. You were able to help someone,” says Ononiwu.
Searches do not always have to be disaster related. Sometimes people fall out of touch with family simply because they do not have access to a phone or the Internet.
The RFL program can also help people find out the fate of relatives who went missing during the Holocaust or World War II.
Ononiwu, a junior at Lehman College majoring in political science and anthropology, continued to volunteer as a case worker after her internship was over. She is interested in a career in international relations or humanitarian work.
“Being able to do these things makes you feel very connected as a world. By working together you can make sure that everyone is taken care of. We are all a piece of each other and we can all work together to ensure we can retain our family because family is extremely important and vital to how we live,” says Ononiwu.