Red Cross provides wellness supports for Manitobans evacuated due to wildfires

By Michelle Palansky, communications advisor

Sharla Kojima is a safety and wellbeing responder. She is on deployment with the Canadian Red Cross in Manitoba working with First Nation members evacuated to Winnipeg because of air quality concerns due to wildfires in their community.
A woman in glasses and in a Canadian Red Cross vestAs a member of a four-person mobility team, Sharla starts the day with a follow-up list. The list includes people who have requested support or who have been flagged as people who might benefit from a check-in. She provides daily wellness checks that can include physical, emotional, and mental health supports.
“Basically, we listen,” says Sharla.
At the beginning of the response, it was mostly Elders and mothers with babies who were evacuated to Winnipeg.
“They were uprooted. They left behind their family, their pets, their friends. Some of them had never left their communities before. It’s a huge culture shock for them.”
Many had medical issues and the team ensured that nurses were available, and prescriptions were filled. Some were dealing with family trauma and grief. The team listened. Everyone was dealing with the anxiety of the unknown.
“This has been the most challenging and the most rewarding response I have worked on. Tensions are high with the people who have been evacuated,” explains Sharla. “They have no idea when they’re going home, they don’t have any of their home comforts, and they don’t know if they will even have a home to return to. It’s all just a big question mark.”
Every day is different.
“At each hotel stop at least three more things will pop up,” Sharla says. “We never know what we’re going to walk into and often people approach us when they see the Red Cross vest. We never turn people away – we are there for them.”
The days are long, typically 12-hour shifts.
“The shifts go by fast. We’re always on the move. There’s always something going on.”
A hand written note thanking Sharla for providing a listening earSohabe Ali, with Canadian Red Cross People Services, described Sharla as one of the most unflaggingly positive people on deployment. “Even in the most challenging situations, Sharla remains calm and somehow finds a way to reach people,” Sohabe shares.
There is no magic in her approach, Sharla explains.
“The big thing is empathy. Offering an ear, a shoulder. Not judging, just listening. People just want someone to hear them, empathize with them, and offer the supports that they need.”
Recently, Sharla received a comment card from one of the people she assisted. He explained what her support meant to him.

“I’m glad she’s here and has an open ear and listens to what I talk about and the struggles I’ve been facing and gives me the advice that I need to hear. Sharla, I have respect for and the more I talk with her I feel more and more comfortable on opening up to her. She is an amazing worker that I can talk to, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if she wasn’t here for me to talk to. So, I’m glad she’s here for me to talk to.”

This is not an individual effort, Sharla insists. There is an entire team behind her that makes this kind of work possible.
“I love the team I work with. We’re all there for the same reason and that’s because we care, and we want to make a difference. Out of all the jobs I’ve had, this is definitely the most rewarding. The job where I wake up and look forward to going to work,” says Sharla. “How can I remain positive in this situation? It’s because I’m just thankful that I get to be a part of it.”
Through the wildfire evacuations, the Canadian Red Cross worked with seven First Nation communities, supporting 4,200 people with food, lodging, transportation, and wellness checks.

Related stories:

See your impact in action.

Sign up to receive impact updates from the Canadian Red Cross, inspirational stories from the field and be the first to hear about emergency relief efforts.

The Canadian Red Cross takes your privacy seriously. We do not distribute or sell your email address to anyone. View our privacy policy.

Blog Archives