Bringing international humanitarian law to northern Minnesota

By Vanessa Smith, UW-Superior student and Red Cross Intern

It’s hard to believe that one year ago I was on a trip in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Political Science Association at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and we had the opportunity to visit the national headquarters of the American Red Cross. I was amazed by the fact that Red Cross does far more than what most people assume that it does. Personally, I had always thought that it mostly dealt with blood services, but after visiting national headquarters I learned that the Red Cross also deals with international humanitarian law (IHL) along with several other areas of service.

UWS students visiting the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Haji Dokhanchi.

Personally, I was highly interested in Red Cross’s dedication to educating and increasing awareness in regards to IHL. In fact, the American Red Cross has adopted a campaign from the Belgian and French Red Cross’s that have developed a simulation training program called “Raid Cross.” This program explores and addresses the humanitarian issues involved in armed conflict situations, the basic rules of IHL that apply, and the importance of these rules in conflict situations, such as preventing harm to civilians.

I was eager to know if and how I could become involved with the American Red Cross and IHL. So, while I was visiting D.C., I asked my professor if he knew of any internship opportunities in the Twin Ports area with American Red Cross. In fact, he pulled his email up on his smart phone and sent an email to Dan Williams with the Minnesota Red Cross chapter in Duluth, right there on the street in front of the Red Cross national headquarters! By the time I returned from the east coast, I had an interview set up with Dan and was well on my way to starting my journey with American Red Cross.

UWS students participating in Raid Cross training.
UWS students participating in Raid Cross training. Photo credit: Kota Yanagidani.

Since then, I’ve been working to educate the local community about IHL. We recently held an event at the Allworth Institute for International Studies at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. This was a lecture by Red Cross volunteer Pj Doyle regarding refugees and immigrants to the United States. At this event, we reached out to more of an older generation in attendance from the area community. The next day we held an actual Raid Cross simulation at the University of Wisconsin – Superior. At the simulation we had almost 50 people in attendance, which included local high school and college students. We did both of these events all in one week! I really enjoyed knowing that we had reached more people in the community regarding IHL and refugee and immigration processes. When speaking to students after the events, I learned that many really enjoyed the experience. Also, I think that the community members were quite pleased, and maybe even surprised by, how beneficial the Raid Cross simulation training was.

High school students during a Raid Cross training at UWS
High school students after a Raid Cross training at UWS. Photo credit: Haji Dokhanchi.

When I started my internship with the Red Cross, I knew this was the kind of work that I wanted experience doing. My major is Political Science and my minor is Global Studies so I’m very interested in various topics, such as law, policy making, international relations, and humanitarian aid. Through my Red Cross internship I continue to learn more and more information that relays back to helping me with my major and it makes me feel especially good because I know that through my internship I’m educating the community on issues that are a passion of my own.

To learn more about IHL for young people, click here. A version of this post was recently published on the Humanity in War blog.  To learn more about Red Cross internships and other opportunities to get involved in Minnesota, click here.

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