Buckeye native shines light on humanitarian needs worldwide

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

When there’s a humanitarian crisis somewhere around the world, the American Red Cross sends Jenelle Eli to bear witness.

In the spring, Jenelle – who hails from Trumbull County, in the Mahoning Valley of northeast Ohio – spent a month aboard the Ocean Viking in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. She was reporting on the rescue of hundreds of desperate migrants trying to reach safety in flimsy boats.

Ivan Jimenez Garra, Mexican Red Cross and Jenelle Eli, American Red Cross survey damage in Jojutla, a small Mexican city that suffered massive damage when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck in September 2017. Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Then she spent July in Warsaw, reporting to the world on the arrival in Poland of hundreds of thousands of refugees from warfare in Ukraine.

With more than a dozen years in disaster and refugee communications, Jenelle has become a highly skilled and widely respected voice.

In May, she spoke at the United Nations about the importance of humanitarian aid, drawing on her first-hand experiences with Red Cross relief efforts around the world.

Recently, the professional organization PRNews recognized her as one of the 2022 Top Women in its Industry Innovators category.

“It’s not easy to get attention from audiences about humanitarian crises – especially because there are just so many taking place at one time,” Jenelle said. “People get disaster fatigue and start tuning out all the hurt that’s happening in the US and around the world. Yet, harnessing people’s attention for good is the only way that things are going to change.

“I’m really pleased that the professional world of PR recognizes the importance of humanitarian communication – and that communicating in a way that ensures dignity for refugees is key.”

Jenelle Eli delivers humanitarian aid to Ines (right) and her neighbors in Morelos, in the wake of a 7.1 earthquake in 2017.  Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

This is how Jenelle describes her mission: “Right now, there are more people displaced from their homes than at any other point in history. I studied refugee issues in school and have devoted my career to raising awareness about people’s needs on migratory routes and even once they’ve reached safety. I raise my hand for international missions because I know that getting refugees’ stories out and elevating their voices is the only way to truly create space for empathy.

“Humanitarians’ work speaks for itself; I simply pull out the megaphone.”

“For nearly two decades, Jenelle has vowed to amplify the stories of displaced survivors through a lens of empathy and empowerment rather than victimization and pity,” said Emily Osment, Red Cross senior media relations manager.

“Through her work, Jenelle has helped secure ports of safety for stranded migrants at sea, enforced the importance of upholding the Geneva Conventions as a neutral, impartial aid actor in the midst of war, protected the identities of vulnerable families fleeing violence and ensuring lifesaving blood reaches patients during national shortages here at home.”

Now, Jenelle has moved from senior director of media relations at American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C., to a six-month stint as head of media relations and advocacy at the headquarters of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Societies in Geneva, Switzerland.

In this role, she’s directing efforts to focus attention in 192 IFRC member countries on the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people.

“I do want people to know that they don’t have to deploy to crisis zones to make a huge difference! EVERYONE can have a humanitarian impact in their own way – whether that’s volunteering in their own community, donating money, raising awareness, or choosing a career responding to crises.

June 30, 2019. Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Kids make ‘heart’ symbols alongside American Red Cross team member, Jenelle Eli, in Kutupalong—a displacement camp in Cox’s Bazar, Myanmar.  Photo credit: Brad Zerivitz, American Red Cross

“In the US, if you want to help refugees, volunteer for an organization helping to reconnect them with separated family members (like the Red Cross!) or a group that welcomes newly- arrived refugees in small cities and helps them navigate their new lives here. There are loads of ways to be a humanitarian.”

To learn more about American Red Cross activities worldwide, powered by the generosity of volunteers and donors, click here.

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