An international tragedy
By Stephanie Kriner
A year after the events of 11 September 2001, families affected
by the World Trade Center attacks still turn to the Red Cross
and Red Crescent for support.
Little could stand in the way of Maria Sanchez Mandoza's
husband, Juan Ortega Campos, as he sought a better life for
his wife and their three children. Three years ago, he left
them at his mother's house, snuck across the US border and
headed for New York City. As a delivery worker in the World
Trade Center, he earned enough money to support himself and
to send some back home to the family. Meanwhile, Maria supplemented
his wages and even began saving money by selling clothes on
the street. One day, the couple hoped to save enough to buy
a house. That dream and many others were shattered last September
when Juan died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
"The last year was so confusing," she said while
sitting in a New York City hotel room the night after attending
the 11 September anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero. "At
first I didn't know whether he was dead. I was hoping that
he would appear at anytime. Then, I had to try to understand
that he was gone, and it is still so difficult."
When Mandoza, 32, finally accepted that her husband died
in the attacks, her anger blinded her. She could not even
begin to worry about how she was going to support the family
on her own.
"When I started working with Maria, she was very angry,
but it was an emotion to cover up her feelings of loss,"
said Diana Montelongo, a volunteer mental health worker with
the Mexican Red Cross. "The psychosocial support we provided
gave her an opportunity to bring her real emotions out."
Mandoza is one of more than 1,000 recipients of emotional
and financial support from the American Red Cross (ARC) 11
September international family assistance programme
While leaving hundreds of thousands of people in need of
assistance in the United States, the international scope of
the tragedy also triggered an unprecedented global response.
The cooperation culminated in Manhattan on the anniversary
of 11 September when the ARC brought together 31 Red Cross
and Red Crescent tracing workers from around the world to
discuss the work of the past year. In addition, the ARC has
assisted families in 65 countries, spending nearly US$ 4 million
on international cases alone.
The magnitude of this support resulted from donations topping
US$ 1 billion, including over US$ 35 million from more than
40 National Societies. Initially, the ARC planned to designate
a portion of the funds to prepare for emergencies from future
attacks. However, under pressure from the public and government
officials, the ARC redirected the donations to cover only
the needs triggered by the 11 September tragedy.
Because of the enormous outpouring of support, international
clients have received the same benefits as those offered to
American families. This assistance has included a year's worth
of financial support to those who lost a wage earner, and
payments for mental health counselling, funerals, travel to
and from New York and other expenses related to the tragedy.
In addition, the ARC is currently dispersing a final allocation
of US$ 45,000 to each estate of those killed in the attacks,
and is offering additional assistance to others who were either
injured or financially dependent on someone who died. In all,
the National Society estimates that some 3,000 families of
the deceased will receive an average of US$ 116,000.
The ARC has worked with other societies to establish local
recovery projects. In Mexico, it funded a 12-week mental health
counselling programme, allowing psychosocial volunteers to
travel to the homes of those who otherwise would have no means
to seek counselling. In Jamaica, it supported an outreach
programme, allowing volunteers to educate communities about
how to best support those who lost loved ones.
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, a support group of 300 family
members has received Red Cross funding. "I'm amazed by
their strength and commitment... It's amazing how they help
each other when they are so needy themselves," said Sophie
Brandt, 11 September family assistance programme coordinator
for the British Red Cross.
Continued support such as this will help those who lost loved
ones cope in he years ahead. However, Red Cross mental health
counsellors fear that some f the thousands of families who
still have not received their loved ones' remains will stay
in denial indefinitely. Whilst the first anniversary marks
a time, it is still very hard for families to et any type
of closure," Brandt said. Some are still in shock and
have not started the bereavement process."
The American Red Cross anticipates hat it may take years
for many people to come to terms with their loss. For that
reason, the organization expects to spend between US$ 35 and
US$ 40 million on mental health for some 16,000 people and
plans to keep its 11 September recovery programme office in
New York open for three to five years.
Years from now, some people will just begin to seek help,
said Maggie Tapp, acting director for the 11 September mental
health programme in New York. "People deal with loss
and trauma in many different ways. We anticipate that 30 per
cent of those affected will seek professional mental health
treatment," she said.
In addition to covering the costs of psychological care,
the Red Cross and Red Crescent will continue to address long-term
needs. While in some cases, this support may mean providing
professional mental health assistance, in others it may be
as simple as offering an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry
After Sivapakiam Paramsothy of Malaysia lost his 24-year-old
son Vijay, he went into a rage. He turned to Jayanthy Maruthan
of the Malaysian Red Crescent to help with his travel expenses,
and to vent some of his concerns.
"I was in a position to explain and ease a little bit
of his frustration. When he ?rst came to my office, he was
a very angry man. All I could do was listen," Maruthan
As 11 September approached this year, Paramsothy dreamed
that Vijay told him to visit New York again. When he woke
up, Paramsothy jotted the words "his resting place"
in a weathered leather journal that he began using after his
son's death. Paramsothy's wife could not face the painful
journey, but Paramsothy knew he had no choice.
"When I visit Ground Zero, I believe that it is his
resting place and fully believe that he is in no pain, only
peace and joy," Paramsothy explained the night before
On his first night in New York, two days before the anniversary,
Paramsothy couldn't stop thinking about that day a year ago,
when his only child vanished. He yearned to have his wife
by his side. There was no use in even trying to sleep. Maruthan,
who was in town for a meeting of Red Cross and Red Crescent
societies helping victims of the attacks and staying in a
hotel just a few blocks away, offered to keep him company.
They walked the streets of Manhattan until 3 a.m.
Two days later, on 11 September, Maruthan was there, walking
by Paramsothy's side again as he and other families participating
in the anniversary ceremony descended into the gigantic, dusty
pit where the Twin Towers once stood and as he placed a photo
of Vijay there and bowed his head to finally say goodbye.
Stephanie Kriner is a freelance journalist based in Washington,
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