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…and a Happy, Healthy New Year- Ebola Prevention Wishes for 2015

Catherine Kane is a senior communications officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Based in Geneva, she was recently deployed to Sierra Leone to support beneficiary communications initiatives as part of the Red Cross response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

As we headed into a community in Freetown, Sierra Leone, this morning, I saw a blue wooden bench at the side of the road, labeled “Long Bench Brotherhood”. It seemed inviting, a perch from which one could see all of the neighbourhood’s activity, but it was empty. I took a photograph, wondering why it was empty on Christmas Day, a day of rest.

20141225 Sierra Leone Kington Bridge Long Bench

A uniformed policeman let the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society team with which I was travelling pass through a series of narrow alleyways into a community of several dozen people. We were in Kington Bridge to engage with the community for several reasons. They were in quarantine, following several members having gotten Ebola. The Ministry of Health and partners recently scaled up holding centres, where one waits 24 hours for the results of a laboratory test while receiving care, and treatment centres in the Freetown area from 16 facilities to 90. The more recent cases in Kington Bridge were uncovered quickly. The community had learned from the Red Cross social mobilization and contact tracing teams that sick people must not be touched and that they should call 117 as soon as they are sick so they can receive safe medical care.

Mamvana, an animated man, perhaps in his forties, who described himself as the right hand of village headman Suleimon, met us at the entrance of the community and gathered his family and neighbours. An inviting smell rose from the pot next to me, cooking over a woodstove as we spoke. As a special Christmas treat, they were cooking a chicken to go with the potato leaves being chopped by the young women next to us. Mamvana, asked by the social mobilization team, described his understanding of Ebola and how the community should protect itself. Multiple discussions with Red Cross community engagement teams over the past few months of intermittent quarantines had helped him and others know what to do, especially now that more treatment centres are available to accommodate the sick, and more rapid pick-up is available to ensure a safe and dignified burial for the deceased.

To the contact tracing team, which comes to the community every day for 21 days after a case is discovered, he proudly announced that everyone in the community was still feeling well. This daily health check is essential  to ensure the safety of the community itself, since the virus has an incubation period of three weeks, and to ensure people don’t spread the disease to others in this heavily populated area. Only six more days, and they would be free to leave the community when they wanted and, most importantly, resume sitting on the Long Bench Brotherhood. Mystery solved!

While Mamvana disappeared into his home, built of corrugated tin, to find his favourite photograph of the bench, we spoke with a young woman who had been leaning against a concrete wall during our conversations. Mabinti is one of the strongest people in the world right now. Having come to Freetown to care for her sick auntie, she contracted Ebola. But she survived. Shyly, she described the experience. Mabinti, as a survivor, is now immune to the virus. Still, she is stigmatized by some. Her village would not allow her to return, a difficult challenge for the young woman. Though she has been welcomed into Kington Bridge by Suleiman and his wells that is starting to peek through at moments.

20141225 Sierra Leone Kington Bridge Survivor

We catch a glimpse when Mamvana returns with his photograph, one of his most treasured possessions. It shows the smiling men of the village beside the long blue bench. As we all smiled, thinking of the freedom that will be theirs in less than a week, he led the community in singing, “We wish you a merry Christmas”. Threading my way back through the narrow streets, escorted by the police officers, I hoped and sang again to myself, “and a happy, healthy New Year.”

20141225 Sierra Leone Kington Bridge Community Leader

To learn more about the American Red Cross response to Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and around the world, please visit this page.

Top Ten Red Cross Cold Weather Safety Tips


As temperatures drop this winter, the American Red Cross offers ten steps people can take to stay safe during the cold weather.

  1. Layer up! Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm. Gloves and a hat will help prevent losing your body heat.
  2. Don’t forget your furry friends. Bring pets indoors. If they can’t come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
  3. Remember the three feet rule. If you are using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away – things such as paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs.
  4. Requires supervision – Turn off space heaters and make sure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed.
  5. Don’t catch fire! If you are using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  6. Protect your pipes. Run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent your pipes from freezing. Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children. Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage.
  7. Better safe than sorry. Keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Your heating bill may be a little higher, but you could avoid a more costly repair job if your pipes freeze and burst.
  8. The kitchen is for cooking. Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.
  9. Use generators outside. Never operate a generator inside the home, including in the basement or garage.
  10. Knowledge is power. Don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator.

For more information on how to stay safe during the cold weather, visit winter storm safety.

2015 Resolutions: 3 Ideas from the Red Cross

With the new year, comes a new you! But for many of us, New Year’s resolutions don’t always pan out.  We try to lose weight, get to the gym more or even take up a hobby. But the changes become overwhelming by day 3 (or is that just me?).

If you’re looking for new resolutions, or just something different for 2015, what about a resolution to pay it forward? We have plenty of ideas of how you can help someone else, including a chance to roll up a sleeve.

Here are three things you can do to help your fellow human this year:

1. Volunteer 

Colorado Wildfires 2012

Here’s a crazy fact: Volunteers constitute 90% of the total American Red Cross workforce to carry out our humanitarian work. There are tons of different ways to volunteer with your local Red Cross chapter. Find out what fits you best.

2. Save a Life

CPR/AED First Aid Class

We’ve all been in a situation where someone has needed first aid or CPR (or at least a close call). Brush up on your CPR and first aid skills in 2015, or take a class for the very first time! You can see when the next class is available by visiting our class finder page.

3. Give Blood. 


This is a 3-for-1 deal: Every time you donate blood, you could help save up to 3 lives. Blood can be safely donated every 56 days and platelets can be given every seven days – up to 24 times a year. Start getting those appointments on your calendar, and pay it forward in 2015.


What You Loved on Red Cross Social in 2014

As we close down 2014, we were going to cover the top 10 search terms you used to find our blog. But that basically simmered down to Captain Crunch, the Titanic, and squirrel photobombs. No joke.

So instead, we dug into what social posts resonated with you this year. Was it the launch of our home fire campaign? The swim campaign to reduce deaths by drowning?

It turns out, you — our wonderful, dedicated, passionate Red Cross social followers — are interested in time. Historic photos, the end of Daylight Saving Time, how often we respond to home fires.

Here are the posts you loved the most (or the ones you missed!)


#1: Flashback Friday — #DDay 70th Anniversary edition: Red Cross workers land on the beach in France (1944)


(See more about our Services to the Armed Forces work)

#2: Tonight don’t forget to TURN and TEST 


#3: Today and everyday, we support our veterans

Rec Hut replacement


#1 (a reprise of #2 above!): Don’t forget to turn back your clock+test your smoke alarm!

#2: Every 8 mins #RedCross responds to a home fire


#3: Urgent need for blood donors

urgent need for donors

(Learn more about donating blood and sign up for an appointment on redcrossblood.org.)

That’s all for 2014! Let us know in the comments if we missed any of your favorite posts, or anything you’d like to see next year!

Indian Ocean Tsunami: 10 Years and a Lot of Mangrove Trees

This post was written by Jenelle Eli, a member of the American Red Cross international communications team. 

Volunteers carry mangrove saplings“Just be sure not to wander off the path, okay? We want to avoid alligators.”

This phrase reached my ears just moments before following a dozen Red Cross volunteers into waist-deep waters in Aceh, Indonesia. The “path” was an underwater plank leading the way to our mangrove planting spot. The plank was a little wobbly, but one alligator warning was enough to steady my footing.

Ten years ago, this body of water was overwhelmed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami—one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. A massive earthquake set off tsunami waves, which struck coastal communities from Southeast Asia to East Africa. In Indonesia, more than 160,000 people died. Those who survived lost almost everything, including their sources of income, which depended on fishing and other forms of aquaculture from bodies of water like this one.

In the days and years following the tsunami, the American Red Cross helped families rebuild their homes, schools, markets, and communities.

So why, a decade later, are we still in Aceh, Indonesia? And why am I waist-deep in murky water?

After an international disaster – like the Indian Ocean Tsunami – the global Red Cross network can provide immediate necessities like food, water, hygiene kits, and mosquito nets. But people surviving disasters like this tsunami sometimes need way more help than that.

In Indonesia, 500,000 people were left homeless. So over time, the Red Cross built new houses. And then the Red Cross connected those houses to running water. We trained local people to maintain the new sanitation infrastructure so that it continues to deliver safe water for years to come.

But even at that, families who survive major natural disasters might still struggle. In Aceh, people lost their jobs when the tsunami destroyed marketplaces, agricultural land, and the places where they fished. So the Red Cross stayed in Indonesia far past 2004. We rebuilt markets. We supplied spice vendors with equipment. And we are still there, restoring ecosystems by planting mangrove trees.

The new mangrove trees not only slow down storm surges and decrease erosion, they also absorb three times as much carbon dioxide as other trees. They dissolve heavy metals like mercury, so that the fish are safe to eat. The mangrove trees provide a habitat for shrimp and oysters, which deliver a new source of income for local families.

Red Cross volunteers have seen the positive results with their own eyes. That’s why, ten years after the tsunami, they’re wading into murky waters and avoiding alligators… all in the name of planting mangrove trees.

It’s this long-term thinking that ensures people not only get back on their feet after disasters, but that they thrive far into the future.

Remembering the Indian Ocean Tsunami

This post was written by Jonathan Aiken, who manages the American Red Cross’s video team.  

JonathanAikenOn Christmas night 2004 I was working at CNN International in Atlanta, anchoring newscasts that few, if anyone in America were watching. It’s not really a big night for TV viewing and CNN International wasn’t widely available in the U.S. For most of those watching, it was already December 26th.

Across Asia, people were working; the cities were crowded, and along the coasts, the fishing fleets were out. At beach resorts in Thailand, many tourists were enjoying their holidays. Back in Atlanta, the first wire bulletins crossed around 8:00 Christmas night. A large earthquake had struck, centered off Indonesia’s western coast. No word yet of damage.

A short time later, an AP wire dispatch: datelined Phuket, Thailand (about 300 miles northeast of where the quake originated). Short and to the point, it quoted a resort hotel manager: people were swept off the beach by large waves, and disappeared.

Within 24 hours, we had all seen the amateur video showing water crashing through palm trees in Phuket, and inundating the streets of Banda Aceh in Indonesia. The news would last for days. Some counts put the death toll at 250,000 or more. Scientists say the planet actually wobbled in its orbit.

In the days that followed, people opened their hearts and donated to the American Red Cross. With that generosity, we created the Tsunami Recovery Program, an effort that took the long view towards relief and recovery.

Fast forward to June 2014:

I’m standing on a beach, looking at a beautiful sunset over a placid Indian Ocean near a town in Indonesia most people have never heard of. Calang, in Aceh province, was virtually wiped out by the 2004 quake and tsunami.

But on this clear, warm evening, fishermen tossed nets into the tidal pools and children caught the last few minutes of daylight. The call to prayer echoed from the minarets of nearby mosques.

I had been in Indonesia four days. My assignment: shoot video of the places impacted by the tsunami and capture stories of people whose lives donors helped rebuild. Earlier that day, our group walked through one of Aceh’s central markets — rebuilt by the American Red Cross as part of an effort to restore the local economy.  A chicken vendor told me business is good these days. The stalls are bigger, easier to clean, better to work from.

He says “Thank you.”

Riding along the coastal road, moving up into the hills, the views were breathtaking: vistas of blue ocean and lush green hills at each turn. But people who live by the sea know this scenery has many faces. Beauty is only one.

A decade ago, at CNN, I had a front row seat to one of nature’s worst tragedies, and had the job of trying to describe and define the incomprehensible, mostly to people who were spectators themselves.

Now, I’m in the same places I talked about a decade ago, and I’m still looking for words to describe my thoughts. So many times on this visit, I came up short. Instead, I looked…and listened to the memories of those who actually lived through a deadly drama in which I served as a distant narrator. Sometimes, 10 years on, their descriptions are spoken in the present tense.

I interviewed a couple, Yusnidar and Adnan, as they sat on the porch of their small home. Children and chickens roamed in their small yard at the top of a hillside.

A neighbor told Yusnidar to run for higher ground 10 years ago. Adnan and a friend ran toward the sea, grabbing armfuls of Pompano fish left on the beach as the tsunami pulled water away from the shore. The phenomenon is a telltale sign the worst is about to come.  He was lucky to make it to higher ground. His friend did not.

Today, they look down on the water from their home, and talk about their work as volunteers with the Indonesian Red Cross. They’re proud of their role in helping their community be better prepared for the next time the water would show another face.

I saw the difference donors made in our visits to the big things…like a water treatment plant that provides clean, safe running water to villages that once relied on a mercury-polluted river for their water. And I saw it in the submerged things, like the root balls of mangrove trees that will improve water quality and stem the flow of the next storm surge.

If the big things can overwhelm, it was a series of small evacuation route signs that brought a human perspective.

I saw them everywhere, starting just yards off the beach and well into the lowlands – in the middle of busy business strips and the edges of farmers’ fields. They show one of those international stick figures moving ahead of a curling wave. All the signs point inland, towards the hills…and in some places, they point towards flights of concrete stairs, cut into the steep hillside and through the brush. The way to safety.

Donors helped build those, too.

The Red Cross invested in evacuation stairs, too, so that young and old, mothers weighed down with children, or fathers loaded with bags of clothes or a few days’ food can move faster towards higher ground.

Towards higher ground. Where safety lies. Where the views are. Where the ocean shows its most beautiful face.

Twelve Days of Holiday Safety Tips

Editor’s note: Thanks to the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter for this holiday safety information.

Having a busy time getting ready for the holidays? While you are shopping, baking, gift wrapping, decorating and going to parties, the American Red Cross has holiday safety tips to help keep the season safe, happy and bright.

  • Prepare your vehicle for traveling to grandmother’s house. Build an emergency kit and include items such as blankets or sleeping bags, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, compass and road maps, shovel, tire repair kit and pump, extra clothing, flares, and a tow rope.
  • Drive your sleigh and reindeer safely. Avoid driving in a storm. If you must travel, let someone know where you are going, the route you’re taking to get there, and when you expect to arrive. If the car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along their predetermined route.

Driving in snow

  • Help prevent the spread of the flu. Stay home if you’re sick. Wash hands with soap and water as often as possible, or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Follow Santa’s fashion lead – dress in layers. When it’s cold outside, layered lightweight clothing will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat. Gloves and a hat will prevent loss of body heat. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs.


  • Use a Red Cross-trained babysitter when attending holiday festivities. Red Cross-certified babysitters learn to administer basic first aid; properly hold and feed a child; take emergency action when needed and monitor safe play. Some may be certified in Infant and Child CPR.
  • Avoid danger while roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  •  Be a lifesaver during the holidays. The Red Cross recommends at least one person in every household should take first aid and CPR/AED training. (Plus, there’s a 20 percent discount until December 31st!)
  • Designate a driver or skip the holiday cheer. Buckle up, slow down, don’t drive impaired. If you plan on drinking, designate a driver who won’t drink.
  • When the weather outside is frightful, heat your home safely. Never use your stove or oven to heat your home. Never leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended. Install smoke alarms.
  • Cut down on your heating bills without being a Grinch. Get your furnace cleaned and change the filters. Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking the heat vents. Close off any rooms not in use and turn off the heat in those rooms. Turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater.


  • Home for the holidays? Travel safely. Check the air pressure in your tires and make sure you have windshield fluid. Be well rested and alert. Give your full attention to the road – avoid distractions such as cell phones. If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible.
  • (Bonus!) Resolve to Be Red Cross Ready in the New Year. Get ready now in case you or a member of your household faces an emergency in 2015. Get a kit. Make a plan. Be informed.

Where It’s Needed Most: Help for Home Fires in 2014

You know we’re approaching the end of the year when you spend the better part of the week watching year-in-review videos from our favorite social networks (what? Just me?). Not one to be left out, the Red Cross released the annual year-end summary of stats and impact. Take a gander at the nifty visuals (and share them with a friend, why don’t ya?)

Here’s a preview. Head online to check out the whole thing.

Infographic grab

Our work is made possible by the generosity of the American public. You can help people affected by disasters big and small by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables us to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters.

You can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Your donation helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters.

Real Adventures in Babysitting

Grant Hansen is a Director, Product Development (First Aid/CPR/AED & Babysitting) for the American Red Cross.

When the Red Cross put out a call for “so-bad-they’re-funny” babysitting stories, we got quite the response.

It goes to show that when our Babysitting Basics and Advanced Child Care Training instructors tell sitters to be prepared for the unexpected, they are right on the money.

A half hour after putting a baby to bed, contest winner McKenna, 13, heard a strange sound coming from the room. Alarmed, she bolted upstairs, only to find the baby giggling while sound asleep. (That must have been some funny dream!) As the contest winner, McKenna and a friend will attend the Red Cross Babysitting Basics course for free, and they’ll blog about it here.

Here are some babysitting adventures that caught our attention.

• Bridgette, 12, sent one of her charges to his room for misbehaving. Not five minutes later, the frantic boy called Bridgette for help because he had managed to get his toy poodle trapped between the window and the screen. It took Bridgette’s dad, a ladder and a gaggle of neighbors to free the dog. Babysitters, keep an eye on the small pets, especially around mischief-makers.

• On a fairly normal day of babysitting, Reece, 13, changed a rather dirty diaper – not a big deal for this seasoned sitter. But then her little charge kept going. And going. And going. Sums up Reece, “Sometimes they go, and then they GO!”

• Rebecca, 14, took her eyes off her charge for three minutes, which apparently was enough time for him decorate himself and the kitchen floor with a once-full bottle of pancake syrup.

• And finally, bedtime went fine for the 4-year-old girl that Rhiannon, 13, was watching. Rhiannon spent a lot more time with the 6-month-old baby, who had colic and kept crying. After the baby finally drifted off, Rhiannon tiptoed down the hall to check on the 4-year-old. The little girl was gone and didn’t answer, and so Rhiannon called the parents on the phone. To her surprise, they calmly asked if she had checked under the little girl’s bed, which was where she sleeps when the baby cries. Sure enough, this story had a happy ending.

Would you know what to do in these situations? Want to know more? Check out all three Red Cross babysitting course options:

Advanced Child Care Training for ages 16 and up
Babysitter’s Training for sitters aged 11-15. This course also comes with the option of adding pediatric first aid, CPR and AED training.
Babysitting Basics, a self-paced online course for ages 11-15.

Holiday Quiz! Cooking and Decorating Fire Safety

‘Tis the season for stuffing your face with cookies and outdoing your neighbor’s holiday light show. (Or something like that.) While merriment and holiday fun is encouraged, do you know how to stay safe?

Take the quiz, and then use the questions as small talk at your next holiday party. You’ll thank us later.

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