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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.




Bringing closure

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 on.

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 explained.

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 the anniversary.

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
Stephanie Kriner is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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