The American Red Cross is just one of 192 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies that gathered in Geneva, Switzerland last December. As the Chair of American Red Cross’s National Youth Council and the Youth Engagement Lead for the Desert to the Sea Region, I was nominated to represent American Red Cross youth at what are called the Statutory Meetings.
Every four years, national societies from around the globe, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), national governments, and all other high contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions gather to make decisions and engage in debates on key issues of humanitarian concern.
Being at the Statutory Meetings allowed me to see not only what the American Red Cross contributes to the world, but how all of the pieces of the global Red Cross Red Crescent network fit together. I’ve been using the phrase, “Down the street, across the country, around the world,” for years. I didn’t fully appreciate it, though, until I met youth delegates from all over the world who were volunteering in their local communities or working together with the American Red Cross following natural disasters. This organization truly does work everywhere, and youth volunteers are such a huge part of that work wherever they go!
Reaching Historic Milestones
This meeting also marked two historic milestones: the IFRC turned 100 years old and it admitted two new national societies—the Bhutan Red Cross and the Marshall Islands Red Cross—to join in our life changing work. The decisions made at these meetings have an immediate impact on our work and will continue to do so for years to come. Through it all, youth played a key role in what happened in Geneva.
Called the Statutory Meetings, each segment of the two-week-long discussions build upon one another. There are four parts, the: 1) Youth Forum; 2) General Assembly; 3) Council of Delegates; and 4) International Conference. Throughout the course of the meetings, our work was driven by the unifying theme of, “The power of humanity.”
Humanity can be powerful, but only as powerful as our emphasis on it. At a time when the number of people fleeing violence is the highest recorded since WWII, and when natural disasters displace millions, the need to leverage the power of humanity has arguably never been greater. This theme covers the humanitarian work that each of our Red Cross and Red Crescent societies provide to our local communities, and it describes the unique ability of the global Red Cross Red Crescent network to garner consensus among our partners around the world. Humanity is one our fundamental principles, and one that youth volunteers are particularly good at embodying.
A Seat at the Table
This event was the first time that youth volunteers had a place at the table and a vote to match it. The Youth Forum, a two-day kickoff to the meetings, was designed to allow youth delegates to come together, learn from one another, share best practices in supporting youth volunteers, give feedback on the IFRC’s new Strategy 2030, and coordinate regionally. I was part of the Americas region, covering everywhere from Canada to Chile, and I was able to see how the American Red Cross plays into the delivery of our mission in this part of the world. I also learned from others who are already working together to share resources and develop leadership potential across borders.
The Youth Forum also set the stage for the historic first election of the Global Youth Commission of the IFRC. For the first time ever, youth were able to take power into their own hands by selecting the young people who will be representing them and making decisions that impact the entire Red Cross Red Crescent network. This election was launched by IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who encouraged youth volunteers to “see the power that we have in our hands to help humanity as the largest humanitarian and volunteer network for the world.” The newly-elected Youth Commission will help advocate and develop resources and policy to improve youth engagement in the coming years.
Shaping the Future of the Red Cross
National societies took the gathering as an opportunity to sign pledges on collaborative efforts. One pledge that the American Red Cross signed was to increase the effectiveness of our cross-border response to disasters and other emergencies in North America with the Canadian Red Cross and Mexican Red Cross. This was a special pledge for me because the youth delegates at the Statutory Meetings were engaged in the signing ceremony with our Presidents. This exchange also created a platform for the youth delegates to start discussing the strengths of our youth engagement efforts in each of our national societies and to brainstorm what that collaboration could look like in the future.
In addition to monitoring the progress of the pledges that were made in Geneva, I am brimming with ideas on how to act today to shape tomorrow. I know so many youth volunteers in the United States are making a difference in Red Cross Clubs through disaster preparedness, fundraising, blood drives and so much more.
Any action that you take today to improve your community will help shape the future of our organization. You can learn more about youth engagement at the American Red Cross by visiting redcrossyouth.org. You can also learn more about the global Red Cross Crescent network at https://www.ifrc.org/en/who-we-are/the-movement/.