Geoff Loane stares out of his window in Washington, D.C., recalling an experience that still haunts him two decades later.
A sick child undergoes a medical examination at an ICRC clinic in Garanswayn, Somalia.
Hear Geoff’s tell his story from Somalia by downloading the latest American Red Cross podcast.
As an aid worker for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Loane visited a small town in a Somali countryside plagued by armed conflict. Directly ahead, huddled in the street, were a starving mom and dad with their four children – too weak to stand.
“Many of us are parents, and we’re all children,” he says. “The anger, and the torment, and the anguish that you feel when you see a family dying on the street in front of you… it’s an image that still generates in me enormous levels of energy.”
Loane has spent his career assisting people in need like the family in Somalia. Since 1984, he has worked around the world with the ICRC, serving in the Middle East, the Balkans and in the Horn of Africa.
Working in Washington
From summer 2004 until fall 2009, Loane served as the ICRC head of delegation in the United States and Canada, supervising visits to U.S. military detainees in Guantanamo Bay and promoting international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, to diverse governmental, nonprofit and public audiences.
The position offered an opportunity to ensure fundamental protections in a new context.
“The experience of being deprived of your liberty, being detained as a result of armed conflict, is a very personal and very individual experience. We do not take position as to the guilt or innocence or legitimacy of the detention,” Loane says. “We do look at the human aspect.”
These visits are a standard practice for the ICRC in seventy countries. Around the world, the ICRC visits about 500,000 detainees each year.
The new head of delegation is Mary Werntz, who joins the delegation after working in Kashmir, Croatia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and, most recently, Nepal.
“I will try to simply continue along the lines that this delegation is already on,” she says. “We have an outstanding reputation in North America. As everyone knows, we are working in Guantanamo, the work we have done there has been recognized, and the work that we are doing with the US and Canadian armed forces is very much appreciated.”
Despite this focus, Werntz is quick to point out that the breadth of ICRC activities extends far beyond recent headlines on detention. These programs include reconnecting families separated by armed conflict; putting detainees in contact with their families; and assistance programs, including food, shelter, medicine and water for vulnerable populations in war or disaster zones.
“We’re privileged. The work that we do and that we’re paid to do is to try to alleviate human suffering. That’s a very difficult job, an incredible job to be tasked to do.”
Meanwhile, as Loane prepares for his next step as the ICRC head of delegation in London, he continues to find context for his work from past experience.
“We were able to bring in airplanes with 48 hours,” he says of his experience in Somalia.
“It was too late for [the starving family], but it wasn’t too late for others, and it’s still not too late for others.”
To learn more about the ICRC’s work in the U.S. and around the world, visit their Web site at www.icrc.org.
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