Dedicated To disaster recovery: A Red Crosser's story

Guest post by Kailen Pavelka, Canadian Red Cross volunteer

From Nicaragua to Newfoundland and on to Alberta, Aliusha Benoit follows her heart when communities need help, particularly after a disaster.

It isn’t always the easiest path to travel, but since Aly first joined the Red Cross as a disaster relief volunteer in Nicaragua more than 20 years ago, she wouldn’t live any other way.

"I cannot imagine anything else more interesting, exciting or rewarding."

Until recently, Aly worked as case management team lead in Calgary for the Canadian Red Cross recovery operation launched after the 2013 Alberta floods. Her team helps people still struggling to rebuild their lives and homes.

When the floods first happened, Aly was far from the destruction, at home in Newfoundland with her husband Edgar, and teenaged daughter. Within three days, she knew that she had to help. She answered the call to volunteer and flew to Calgary, ready to start picking up the pieces of people’s lives.

Born in Cuba, Aly first discovered her desire to help with disasters when she was a university student in Nicaragua. When Hurricane Joan slammed into a dozen countries across Central America and the Caribbean in 1988, she volunteered to assist with Red Cross relief efforts and was forever inspired by the experience.

I like this style of life. It is not about a pay cheque. It is the thanks you receive from the people.

It was Aly’s marriage to Edgar that prompted her move from Central America to a small Newfoundland community. And the Red Cross still wasn’t far away. Aly joined the local Red Cross and completed her disaster management training in Corner Brook in 2011. She was well prepared when floods hit Alberta.

Aly Benoit in CalgaryAly remembers the early days after the floods as some of the hardest. Families could only sort through the mud, looking for belongings, while she offered them emotional support. As a volunteer, she first worked in shelters, did outreach in communities, and later became call centre supervisor. Next, she was hired as a recovery caseworker and was later promoted to team lead.

It’s now been 18 months since Aly first arrived in Alberta and she has decided it’s time to move home again, at least until her desire to help people affected by disaster is triggered again.

Described by community partners as “a delight to work with,” someone who “truly cares about the people she meets,” Aly will be missed in Alberta. But her time with Red Cross will never be over, she says. “This is not just work. This is a lifestyle for me."

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