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Colleen Laginskie: exposing herself to risk to help others

By Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross communications aid worker

Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, all countries with varying degrees of instability; all countries in which travellers expose themselves to a certain amount of risk; and all countries in which Colleen Laginskie has worked.
The Toronto-born nurse has been undertaking overseas missions to some of the world’s hotspots for eight years, some with the Canadian Red Cross, some with other organizations.
“Many of my friends and colleagues question my decision-making when I agree to these missions,” says Colleen. “But I can’t let fear hold me back from doing something I am passionate about. I put a lot of trust in my colleagues and in the Red Cross, and use my common sense and street smarts to keep me safe.”
The soon-to-be newlywed has worked in prisons, emergency field hospitals, and refugee camps.
“I really wish everyone could visit a refugee camp. I think it would break down a lot of barriers, create a better understanding of how billions of people in this world live, and generate empathy and then action to help improve their situation.”
Overseas missions can be extremely challenging - working in unfamiliar surroundings without the resources found at home, trying to communicate when you don’t speak the language. “Communication is absolutely vital when working in a field hospital,” explains Colleen. “I always work alongside local nurses and doctors and if there is a misunderstanding, it could be the difference between life and death.”
With such stressors, she outlines her coping mechanisms: getting a good night sleep, meditation, yoga, potato chips, and just letting go.
“I vent,” she says with a laugh. “I vent to my colleagues, I vent to my fiancé, I vent to anyone who will listen really. If I am to continue accepting such challenging missions, it’s so important for me not to keep things all bottled up inside.
“Not only does it mean I can function at 100 per cent while in the field, it also means I am doing what I need to do to stay healthy so I can accept another deployment.”

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