My Discovery with Red Cross

February 27, 2010
By Nadiah

Past

I was going through some old files on my hard disk, when I came across my first professional resume. I created this in 2003. It was two pages long, and the bulk of the second page was taken up with examples of volunteering activities. To my great surprise, thoughts that had lingered before about Red Cross, was now confirmed on this old document.

I had volunteered with Singapore Red Cross Society at the age of 13. In conjunction with my school, and Red Cross, I participated in a couple of activities.

1. Visits to the Disabled Home at Red Cross Society. As I was an avid guitarist at the time, my musical traits helped in entertaining the disabled community in the home. The section I visited were of people with learning and physical disabilities. It was so special to sing Malay folk songs, and receive huge enthusiasm by their smiles. Some also took to clapping and following the rhythm. They often asked me to play these songs again.

2. Flag Day. An annual fund-raising event, which I participated with friends and peers from my school. I was delegated to the residential area of Holland Village. This was my first experience of having to deal with the general public, representing not myself, but Red Cross. As the day went on, I learnt and developed better ways of engaging people to donate their change outside places such as supermarkets.

Overall, this trip down memory lane has made me evaluate the vital experience of volunteering from a young age. The integration of education and volunteering was upheld in my curriculum, and with peers that had similar interests to me, I felt that community spirit within the school, and in the country I once called home, Singapore.

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Present

First Visit to the American Red Cross, Greater New York
Friday, February 12th

Aside from the eventful taxi ride I shared with Serin and Yina to arrive at our destination (the man dropped us at a completely wrong place), I was impressed from the start when I saw the building from afar, and later, within. The EOC (Emergency Operations Centre), right next to the ECC (Emergency Communications Centre), was a glimpse of the formal inner workings of the American Red Cross.

It was interesting to learn that Art Center in Pasadena, California, had similarly collaborated with American Red Cross. Through their Designmatters platform, the engagement in socially-activating design was something that attracted me when I first applied for graduate schools in the US. Now, to have this opportunity at Parsons, and in such a huge, vibrant, diverse city – New York, I could not be more pleased to be in this initial development phase, establishing a partnership with the American Red Cross.

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Second Visit

Reservist Training
Saturday, February 20th: 9-5pm

Before I proceed about my thoughts on the training, I wanted to remind any international, non-US citizens, to bring their physical passport to the next training in March. As background checks will be taking place, I encourage to do this first online at www.mybackgroundcheck.com/arcvts/. The passport acts as government issued ID, which they need to see when doing formal checks. Although I did not have mine on the day, it was not a problem. I had to ensure to email my copy of the passport to the department as soon as possible.

At the training I attended with several peers, it was very clear to see that the Haitian-Americans dominated the scene. The question of Haiti was in the air. There was an introduction by a representative of the Haitian group that took part in this training. The language of Creole was introduced here. A lady next to me kindly translated, and I tried to connect somehow with my understanding of French to the language. I have an interest in languages and linguistics. Although I do not pursue a career in translation or such, I make a point in my everyday living in cities such as New York, to be exposed to and absorb the languages that I hear all around me.

As the day carried on, the use of videos, and some interactivity in the form of scenarios, within the groups of tables in that main hall, was the main conduct of training. We even managed to taste the famous heater meals. We were all there as volunteers, in training for the first level of Mass Care. I had now, a better sense of the different, main areas that Red Cross recruits its volunteers for.

My evaluation of the actual training, aside from the concerns of the Haitians, was the use of some videos that looked a little dated. (Note the hairstyles and clothing) The facilities as we would expect from this impressive building, were more than adequate. Although issues with the sound equipment, vital to the training, were not resolved successfully. We had to resort to voice projections from the varied speakers.

Apart from that, the training is overall a good , first general look at what we would expect to do with Red Cross. A detailed yet comprehensive structure of the organization. I would be interested to see how many from Mass Care 1, do continue with the other levels of training (Mass Care 2, Mass Care 3).

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Third Visit

Ride-Along with Raul
Thursday: 2-10pm
Supervisors: Jean and John Cruz

As many now are familiar with the mechanics of the ride-along, I would share my personal thoughts of the experience I had on this snow(stormy) day.

My time shift overlapped with Caroline’s, and I must admit that it was nice to see a familiar face in the adjustment period. When I asked another staff on that floor where the disaster response team were, I was initially disappointed, and rather confused where I had to go, who my instructor, or paid staff member was. Instructions were fairly loose, and the cubicle experience hindered open communication.

Nonetheless, I was not stuck to that cubicle, as an hour later after my arrival, I was out with Raul. Our destination and response: fire in a residential flat, Queens. The location was close to Jackson Heights, and the drive especially in traffic, and heavy snow, made it difficult to assess how long it would take to arrive there. I later asked what was the time frame for Red Cross to arrive at the disaster area. Raul answered, “about an hour and a half”. When we arrived, we were greeted by the homeowner, who was clearly distraught, and busy with other members of the building such as the super, neighbours, friends, etc. Raul assessed the flat, along with flats directly below and above. The fire started in the homeowner’s kitchen, but thankfully had not spread to other parts of the flat. From this experience, I learnt the intimate ways of dealing with individuals who are involved in the disaster, the issue of scale and assessments, and also,  what it means to have Red Cross appear at your door, should you need any basic amenities for the immediate time.

As soon as we finished this assessment into the Siebel system, we were told by ECC, that there was a high chance we will have to immediately get to the next fire incident on Staten Island. Another long drive, and again the question of scale was uncertain. A contrast in neighbourhoods, but what was apparent in both incidents was the immediate response from fire and police departments had subsided by the time we had arrived. A sign of what we were to anticipate and assess at the scene. I also learnt that with every fire, there is someone who will fix your door. This next one, with a door fixer, was of a much smaller scale, and Raul had questioned the screening from the ECC if it was necessary the drive and resources taken out to here.

By the time we arrived back at the American Red Cross uptown, it was 9pm. The shift of the next supervisor, John. A pleasant man, and was enthusiastic to have more people to help as responders. Though what was sad, and made it difficult for me to leave at 10pm, was the actual, remaining numbers of responders in comparison to the disasters of that time period, were significantly low. I took the training for the emergency mask, and at that point showed a considerable interest in pursuing this outside of the Collab.

John, had iterated the factor of communication in their organization. Aside from resources pulling in a motivational speaker for a week a few years ago, to evaluate that known factor, it is now the next step of how can we improve communication.

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Future

As it has been a steady stream of events related to Red Cross, I find myself at the perfect cross-paths of volunteering and a desire to change by design. It is now down to further evaluation, and to seek what it is that I want to make a change. With varied strengths in our studio, it can only catapult our shared desires further by honing in several, key areas of the American Red Cross, we have experienced these past weeks.

One Response to “ My Discovery with Red Cross ”

  1. Mathan_Ratinam on February 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Nadiah, I really appreciate this very thorough post of all your interactions with the Red Cross. You write very eloquently and I can therefore see why you would be attracted to pursing concerns around the subject of communication. This is also a recurring interest amongst others in the class and in this blog. It’s also great to read that it’s reinvigorated your spirit of volunteering and I hope you do go back to work with the responders. If there’s one thing I noticed its that the diverse make up of that group is a real strength for what they do day to day and I’m sure you’d add to it. Now having experienced all three things that had been planned with the RC and seen multiple dimensions of the organization you’re in a position now to establish what specifically it is about communication (if you choose to continue along this interest) that you want pursue, because its and big subject area with lots of ways in and out of it.