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Fort McMurray residents helping neighbours as Red Cross volunteers

Guest post by Guy Lepage, Canadian Red Cross volunteer

On May 3rd, Anita Blanchette made a promise to her husband as they drove away from home in Fort McMurray, with massive flames chewing up the countryside just 200 metres away:

“I told my husband ‘I don’t think we will have a home to come back to. If we do have a home when we return, I will be giving back’,” she said, tearing up.

After returning to her miraculously intact house, Anita kept her promise: she is now giving back as a Red Cross volunteer on Hardin St. Anita is one of 20 Fort McMurray residents who have been involved in the recovery operation.“I hope it helps”.

Anita Blanchette consults with new volunteer manager Laura Avalino

Laura Avelino has led training of these new Red Cross recruits, and she’s witnessed first hand the willingness of Fort McMurray residents to get involved.

“It has been wonderful. It has been good to have them here because not only do they know the community, they have also been through the same experience.”

Anita can certainly relate to the unprecedented events that herand 90,000 Fort McMurray residents experienced. The first night she left town, hoping to get to Edmonton, she and 20 other people stopped to stay in a home owned by a relativein Anzac, a community only kilometers away from Fort McMurray.
“The next night, the house burned to the ground. That was unbelievable.”

Ouseph Alphonsea greets fellow Fort McMurray residents at the Red Cross office

Ouseph Alphonsea used to volunteer with the Red Cross back home in India, where he was part of the response team to help those affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.

Fast forward to May 3rd when he and his family were evacuated from the home they had lived in since 2010 in Fort McMurray.

Ouseph says he understands how lucky he is because his home was left untouched by the wildfire. And that’s why he has been working as a Red Cross volunteer since June 19, days after returning home.

“The entire community knows people are facing a lot of issues. By volunteering, I want to help them by giving them the information they need to access the services they require”.

 “I am happy to do something for people that they don’t know existed. My heart is happy when I am making other people happy”.

Fort McMurray volunteer echoes Red Cross commitment: “I will be back as long as they need me”

Laura says Fort McMurray volunteers are a moral booster for Red Cross personnel coming from across the country. “These volunteers appreciate what we have done for them so much that they have decided to come in a help us help others, says Laura. That is really uplifting.”

Anita says she is honoured to help. “I will be back to volunteer as long as they need me”.

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