Solferino, Italy — While some of their peers spend the summer on cruise ships in Mexico, several youth from the American Red Cross have decided to take their own path. After a series of planes, trains and automobiles, twenty volunteers traveled across the globe and are spending this week in Solferino, a small town in northern Italy. They are participating in an event honoring Red Cross Red Crescent history.
left to right, Justin Lam; Pat West; Bekele Gelata, Secretary-General of the IFRC and Aubin Dupree.
photo credit: Mat Morgan
On June 24, 2019, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant witnessed great suffering at the Battle of Solferino. In the face of this humanitarian need, he rallied local villagers to help the wounded on both sides, and was so inspired by the experience he created the idea of what would become the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Now, 150 years later and part of a network of tens of millions of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers around the world, youth delegates from 149 countries are meeting in Solferino to learn new skills, share experiences and develop a joint declaration for leaders to influence the future of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
“It is humbling to be part of this event,” said Pat West, chair of the National Youth Council, which advocates for and creates programs on behalf of volunteers ages 13-24. “We have met volunteer leaders from dozens of countries, including Thailand, Mongolia and Liberia, and shared our stories and ideas.”
At the opening ceremony on Tuesday night, youth were exposed to the international nature of the meeting. After a parade that emphasized the diversity of each country, youth leaders and event organizers spoke in no less than eight languages to attendees.
Aside from participating in workshops and discussions on subjects as diverse as climate change, gender inequality and HIV/AIDS, this world youth meeting also gives U.S. volunteers an opportunity to teach others based on their own experiences. Yesterday, members of the American Red Cross delegation presented on the theory and practice of leadership.
“We are very happy about how it went,” said Sandy Tesch, former chair of the National Youth Council. “The Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Bekele Gelata, participated in our session, discussing the concepts we presented.”
The American delegation has a varied background, including college and post-college volunteers, in local, regional and national leadership positions. Many paid for the trip out of pocket in order to be a part of this experience.
American youth are blogging and using other social media to update volunteers back home about their lessons, experiences and thoughts. Furthermore, while several days remain, they are already planning to build more international ties by having preliminary talks with Red Cross societies in North America to create a formal youth network, with hopes to provide more support to international programs within the American Red Cross.
“Youth and young adults are an essential part of the American Red Cross, as they are almost one-third of our volunteers,” said Mahati Acharya, chair of the National Youth Council Alumni Board. “This event is helping us to build better programs in each community, and also understand our work around the world.”
To become involved in a youth program near you, contact your local chapter through RedCross.org. In the meantime, follow live blogging at redcrossyouth.org, and sign up for the email updates on this event and other youth news through YouthWire.
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. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation by mailing your donation with the designation to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243 , Washington, D.C. 20013 or to your local American Red Cross chapter. Donations to the International Response Fund can be made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.