Wednesday, November 9, 2016

From Southeast Asia to the US Gulf Coast: Capturing Images of Hope

By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross

For Marko Kokic, no place is too far. Kokic, who has traveled the world working as a photographer for the Global Red Cross Network, says regardless of the location, the Red Cross is on scene to provide comfort for those affected by a disaster. During his most recent trips, Kokic spent time with American Red Cross volunteers in West Virginia and Louisiana photographing the aftermath of two major floods.

"I want a hug," says Fonda Buckley, a resident just beginning to recover from the flooding.  Denham Springs, Louisiana.. Photo credit: Marko Kokic, American Red Cross 

In June, he was deployed to West Virginia for six days to help document the work of dedicated Red Cross volunteers.

“A raging river washed away homes and created a lot of destruction,” said Kokic of the damage in West Virginia. “A lot of people were caught off guard, there were a lot of flash floods.”

Kokic spent his time in West Virginia working with photographers to capture images of response and recovery efforts. He accompanied Red Cross volunteers on a day-to-day basis and communicated with locals affected by the disaster. Kokic said the damage he encountered in West Virginia was shocking, but the resilience of the residents was inspiring. After the flooding, residents, many of whom did not have insurance, were left with little to nothing, forced to rebuild their homes from the ground up.

Flooding, Gonzales, Louisiana, August 16, 2016.  Photo credit: Marko Kokic, American Red Cross
“There was this one place that was really devastated, White Sulphur Springs,” said Kokic. “There was a home that got washed away, killing three people…[There was one family that was] picking through the ashes and debris to find what they could, trying to figure out where their wedding rings could be.”

While Kokic was saddened by what he saw, he was comforted to know that Red Cross volunteers were there to bring some hope. Local and out-of-state Red Cross volunteers came together to rebuild the community. Volunteers distributed food, clothing and clean up kits. Some volunteers ran shelters for those who had lost their homes in the flood.

“They were upbeat, they came in ready to go,” said Kokic of the West Virginia Red Cross volunteers. “No matter how long I have worked with the Red Cross it always remains inspiring. It’s the volunteers that make the organization. The number of volunteers we have, its really amazing, we can move mountains if we want to.”

Courtney Robinson (center) is nearly certain that her home is destroyed by southern Louisiana flooding. Staying at a Red Cross shelter with her children and husband, they had fled their home with a few essential items.  Courtney shared their story with Red Crossers Elizabeth Stander, and Rachel Ambeau, who is also displaced at saying at a Red Cross shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana. Photo credit: Marko Kokic, American Red Cross
Two months later, in late September and in the wake of another major flood, Kokic was deployed to Louisiana to work as a photographer for eight days. In Louisiana, Kokic travelled with a case worker, providing support to those displaced by the flood. Many homes were destroyed, forcing people to start from scratch.

Red Cross volunteers came from all over the world to help those affected by the flooding in Louisiana. Most of the volunteers, Kokic said, worked in shelters or emergency response vehicles, serving those who had recently lost their homes during the disaster. Everyday the volunteers would make sure each person received a hot meal.
Harry Tyler holds supplies received during a Red Cross relief distribution. Eunice, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. Photo credit: Marko Kokic, American Red Cross
“Getting a hot meal when everything you own is destroyed, can be incredibly soothing,” Kokic said. “I think it helps people in some small way with recovery. I think they may feel like they’re not alone.”

Sometimes, Kokic admitted, small acts of kindness can go a long way. He recalled one woman walking up to a Red Cross volunteer in Louisiana and simply asking for a hug. A small comfort, Kokic said, in the midst of a disaster.

“It was a really special moment,” Kokic said. “In that moment, that’s what that woman needed most.”

Kokic has worked in 49 countries – from the Congo to Papua New Guinea –photographing for the global Red Cross network in action. He has spent much of his career photographing the aftermath of natural disasters and wars. But, Kokic asserts, regardless of the circumstances, Red Cross volunteers always exude hope and support. No matter the location, it’s the volunteer base that makes the Red Cross so unique.

No other organization has this kind of volunteer base,” Kokic noted. “The volunteers leave the comfort of their home so they can be in a place that’s been hit by tragedy. They are the best humanity has to offer. No place is too far. Where others won’t tread, the Red Cross will go and help people.”

Marko Kokic 

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