On January 24, 2019, a political crisis broke in Venezuela, which resulted in President Maduro demanding that the U.S. Embassy be closed. The U.S. Embassy did not close but families and non-essential personnel were given 72 hours to leave the country. By the following Friday and Saturday, everybody was on their way home, mostly to the DC area. The evacuees included parents, children, and pets.
As soon as the news hit the media, our AAFSW Evacuee Support Network of over 100 Volunteers geared up. AAFSW’s list of volunteers is always being up-dated. In this case, families were coming from eternal spring weather in Caracas to the coldest winter weather which the DC area had seen in years. The AAFSW volunteers knew that warm clothes would be needed as well as toys.
The AAFSW Evacuee Support Volunteers’ Network deals exclusively with the Family Liaison Office (FLO), and through them, with the Caracas CLO who funnels the information of what is needed to AAFSW. AAFSW, in turn, checks the list of its volunteers and connects each family to one AAFSW volunteer at least. A flyer advertising what the AAFSW Volunteers can do for the families is placed into every family’s Welcome Folder.
Since evacuated families must find their own lodging when they arrive, they are scattered all over – from Chinatown and Foggy Bottom in the District to various rental apartments in Northern Virginia. Some may be able to move into their own houses; some may be hanging out in friends’ basements. Similarly, our AAFSW volunteers are also scattered all over.
AAFSW is there to help when our volunteers are called. Indeed, AAFSW received the following e-mail from an evacuee: “Thank you again for connecting me with this lady. She has been wonderful. I so appreciate all the work you do.”
The AAFSW Evacuee Support Network has been active since the early 1980’s. It began soon after the Iran Hostage Crisis, when it became clear that people coming home needed more support than what was being offered by the Dept. of State. AAFSW has helped evacuees when they came home from Rwanda, from earthquakes in Haiti, from the Arab Spring, and from the draw-downs in Russia.
To find out more about the AAFSW’s Evacuee Support Network and volunteer with AAFSW, please, contact Ann La Porta at: email@example.com.
Ann La Porta
AAFSW Evacuee Support Volunteers’ Network Chair