When we think of the Red Cross, often the first thoughts that come to mind are disaster relief and blood donations. Part of its mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. But few people know that the Red Cross also upholds and educates the public on international humanitarian law, or IHL.
I had always heard the IHL thrown around, but until I began interning with the American Red Cross in August as an International Humanitarian Law chapter liaison, I never understood what it meant. I learned that the IHL places limits on how war can be waged by protecting civilians in the event of an armed conflict. This internship ties in with an initiative that began last year to educate youth about IHL.
Through this initiative, students in either high school or college lead action campaigns through theater performances, surveys, large scale interactive games, flash mobs or scavenger hunts. Action campaigns are performed by teams with eight to 15 members led by two team leaders. The team leaders work with the team members to develop a campaign intended to reach an audience of 200 or more. This is the second year of the program, and our goal is to expand the reach of this initiative to high-school students, and hopefully college students, all over the United States.
As a chapter liaison, I supervise team leaders and action campaigns. Last weekend, I went to Washington, D.C., to attend a three-day training session with Red Cross officials and other interns.
Through discussions with my peers and in classes at the college, I learned to be critical of international issues, including topics of international criminal courts, child soldiers and others discussed at the training. Yet when I had to reenact scenarios surrounding these issues for my Red Cross training, I struggled between whether to follow IHL or make moral decisions. As I learned about the application of the law and the Red Cross’s neutral role in protecting human life, I was frustrated by how easily countries break international policies.
The central New York region of the Red Cross is sponsoring the first annual Collegiate Leadership Institute Oct. 18–20 in Ithaca at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center to train new team leaders. The training will be facilitated by Red Cross officials as well as myself and three other chapter liaisons. With a training taking place so close to Ithaca College, students would benefit from an experience to broaden their perspectives on international issues outside the classroom as well as develop their leadership skills.
Programs such as these are important because our generation needs to be aware of the impacts of IHL. Learning how laws influence global politics and international relations are important because as global citizens we are all affected by what happens in other nations. Through the Red Cross’s education initiative, students can gain a global consciousness that will allow them to become agents of awareness within their communities.