Red Cross work in American Samoa

From Red Cross Chat

Our workers on the ground are the smiling faces and helping hands that provide immediate comfort to the disaster victims. Here are two stories from American Samoa I found particularly inspiring.

Donna Goldsworthy

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Nurse Donna Goldsworthy was among the first American Red Cross workers to arrive on American Samoa—a volunteer whose service was inspired, she said, by the assistance the Red Cross provided after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. Tomorrow, October 17th, will be the 20th anniversary of the quake.

“I’ve been an earthquake victim myself,” she said in a recent interview from American Samoa. “The Red Cross has been an encouraging influence on my life. I wanted to be a part of them, and so did my family. My sister is a Red Cross trainer, and my father recently had to quit the local disaster response team. He’s 85; now, he works at Red Cross blood drives.”

Goldsworthy is among more than 300 American Red Cross workers—from chapters in American Samoa, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland—working on American Samoa with the thousands of families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the Sept. 29 tsunami.

She and her family are among thousands of people who have been personally affected by disasters, such as the Loma Prieta earthquake, where they have seen the American Red Cross at work—and then been inspired to join that work.

For Goldsworthy, of Hilo, Hawaii, that meant stepping up her training as a nurse and signing up as a Red Cross volunteer in 2000.

“I was in Texas last year after Hurricane Ike, working in two different shelters,” Goldsworthy said. “Here on American Samoa, we are out in the field, going from house to house…. Every time we go out to a village, they’re looking better and better….

“I will be here until I’m no longer needed; I’m in for the duration,” Goldsworthy said. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Leonard and Vicki Watts

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In 40 years of marriage, Leonard Watts calculates that he’s spent no more than three weeks at a time away from his wife, Vicki. That’s why, he said, he and Vicki are on American Samoa with the American Red Cross—their eighth assignment together as volunteers in Red Cross disaster services.

“It’s enjoyable to have her around,” Leonard, 67, said in an interview from American Samoa, where he has been working with the mass care component of disaster services, acquiring supplies and repackaging them to help the families affected by the Sept. 29 tsunami.

Vicki offered a slightly different take on working as a couple: “Sometimes it’s helpful; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes one of us can do something the other can’t. We like to help each other.”

Leonard Watts and Vicki Watts play with Ethanuel Williamson and Manuel Torres as they blow bubbles – 2007, New Jersey Floods

On their first assignment together in northern Florida in September 2004, responding to Hurricane Francis—one of four hurricanes to strike Florida that year—Leonard’s commercial driving license earned him a place behind the wheel of an emergency response vehicle—the familiar red-and-white trucks that ply stricken neighborhoods, distributing food and water. On this job, while Leonard works in bulk distribution, Vicki has gone house to house in American Samoa, collecting information on family size and needs.

“The ones we’ve gone to have lost everything—their clothes are gone; their house is totally gone,” Vicki said. “Sometimes, the water was 10-feet high. Some of the families’ belongings were sucked back into the ocean; some were left in the house with mud.”

Leonard visits Aiona Vivi, 4, in a tent the American Red Cross set up for her family – 2009, American Samoa

From their own home in Kanosh, Utah—about 100 miles from their base with the Mountain Valley Red Cross chapter in Provo—Team Watts has traveled to Florida, New Jersey, Texas and, now, American Samoa. Leonard has become recognizable along the way for the big white cowboy hat he wears during his work for the American Red Cross.

The assignment to American Samoa “is the most different” of the couple’s assignments as Red Cross volunteers, Leonard said, but he’s not hanging up his hat: “We’ve done a lot,” he said. “We’d like to do a lot more.”

On that, Vicki was in 100 percent agreement: “If we don’t get to go with the Red Cross sometimes, we feel real bad, because we want to go….Hardships happen, but you look forward to the work….We enjoy it. It’s a rewarding experience….We learn more and gain more than we put out.”

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