For the past week, Hansi Bhagwanani has made it her personal mission to bring a smile to the faces of evacuees, some who have lost everything, in the wildfires raging throughout B.C.’s Interior.
The Saanich resident is one of many volunteers with the Red Cross who have been deployed to the region to help some of the more than 45,000 evacuees, who have been forced to flee their homes due to wildfires.
“If I can bring a smile to somebody’s face, I know I’ve done my job,” she said.
Bhagwanani, who works for the Royal Bank of Canada and has been with the Red Cross for the past 17 years, was deployed to Kamloops two weeks ago, but returned to Victoria for a few days for meetings, before heading back to the Interior on last Wednesday.
After residents are evacuated, they connect with emergency social services personnel, who take care of such immediate needs as food, clothing and accommodation. In the days following, they visit Bhagwanani and other volunteers at the resiliency centre, which is currently running out of a small shopping centre in Kamloops. Her job includes ensuring households receive $600 in financial assistance from the province, which is distributed by the Red Cross.
Service Canada, BCAA, insurance companies and a health and wellness centre are also on hand to help connect people with services.
Since her deployment began, Bhagwanani has helped some 300 people daily, coming from all walks of life, from towns including Cache Creek, Ashcroft and Williams Lake. Evacuees are often vulnerable and distraught, and many have brought animals with them.
One Cariboo resident Bhagwanani helped arrived late one night with 12 hens and a rooster in tow. She helped the woman find accommodation, food and clothing, then called a local farmer to help house the birds until the woman could return home.
Another evacuee without transportation was ready to head home, so Bhagwanani helped him find return transportation for himself and the six animals he brought with him.
She admits the volunteer deployment has been an emotional experience, especially hearing the stories of those who have lost their homes. But she believes helping those in time of need is her civic duty – to give back to a country that has helped her in the past.
“I’m an immigrant from India; I’ve been in Victoria for 40 years, but it’s time to pay it back now. If you can make a difference to somebody and bring a smile to somebody’s face, I think I’ve [had a good] day,” said Bhagwanani, adding she hopes others will consider volunteering with the Red Cross.
“It’s amazing how people come together … everybody looks after each other.”