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People Who Make a Difference - Matthew Marek
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January 13, 2010
I get so much back.

Matthew Marek, Head of Programs, Haiti
Matthew Marek, Head of Programs, Haiti American Red Cross International Services

The American Red Cross has been part of my life since I was young. I took CPR training, and I became a regular blood donor. After a few years in corporate America, I decided to join the Peace Corps. I had no expectations other than to see the world and to be turned upside down in another culture. I hoped I could help a few people in the process.

Haiti blew me away—its natural beauty, its incredible poverty, its dynamic culture. That was more than five years ago. I stayed because I was making a difference. I learned French and Creole. When I got the chance to join the American Red Cross’s work in Haiti, I jumped at the chance. It seemed like a perfect fit. I don’t want to sound too corny, but it’s an honor to be associated with the emblem, and with what it stands for.

I go to neighborhoods most people won’t, like Cité Soleil. I seldom feel threatened. All you have to do is connect one-on-one, be approachable and let them know you care. It’s all about the people. If you connect with a person, the mutual respect will follow. We educate youth of all ages about HIV. We don’t sugarcoat anything—not how you get HIV or what will happen to you if you do. Even the street kids are embarrassed to be candid at first, but once we break the ice, they get very involved, no cutting up or acting out. After a few hours, they know HIV is like a time bomb—if you play with it, it can kill you. At the end of each session, they have to testify individually about what they’ve learned. Then we ask them to go back home and spread the word to their peers.

The program works—because it’s explicit, because it involves youth and gets them to educate each other. Some years ago, my dad, Raymond Marek, became a volunteer at the Wyoming Valley Chapter in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Last year, his chapter named him Volunteer of the Year. I sure don’t expect to receive any kind of award for my work any time soon, yet I get so much back from my team, from the experience, but most of all, the Haitian youth. If what I do changes behavior and allows kids who wouldn’t receive the message otherwise to make different life choices, then I’m happy. I’ve done what I came to do.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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