Red Cross: One of my favorite experiences

Guest post by Christina Li

Leah, Christina and Caitlyn

Volunteering has always been a big part of my life, and volunteering with the Red Cross has definitely been one of my favorite experiences. Two years ago, I joined the Woodbury High School Red Cross Club. Of course, me being me, I had to drag a couple of friends along: first Leah, and then Caitlyn. We started off with basic projects like holiday cards for veterans and blood drives, but pretty soon us three (Caitlyn, Leah, and me) started looking for extra opportunities. We worked together on the Pillowcase Project and helped raise money for hurricane victims (which hopefully we’ll be running next year, fingers crossed). When we were presented with the opportunity to participate in the International Humanitarian Law Youth Action Campaign, we were so excited. All of the projects we had done so far had been planned step by step for us, so this was the perfect chance to take control and leave an impact on those around us.

On the day of the training, we all got up super early and drove to the Red Cross office in Minneapolis. To be honest, we had no idea what to expect, and for me at least, I had no idea what International Humanitarian Law was. A little nervous, we walked into the classroom and… no one was there. Well, no students at least. At first, it was a little awkward being only 3 students in a room with 4 adults but, looking back, it was amazing to have that one-on-one type of learning environment. We were able to ask questions at anytime and launch into full scale debates about whatever we wanted. We talked about what International Humanitarian Law (IHL) was, what the Health Care in Danger (HCID) initiative was for, and, most importantly, what we could do about it. Being best friends with Leah and Caitlyn, the moment we 3 girls were set free to start designing our own campaign we all blurted the exact same idea. The hard part was in the details. Dr. Haji Dokhanchi, our instructor and a Red Cross volunteer, was incredibly helpful and we were able to pick his brain on what he thought would be most successful. We walked out of class practically talking over each other and bursting at the seams with different ideas.

Although we’re only sophomores, all of our schedules are filled with school and extracurricular activities, which made it really hard for us to work on our presentation all at the same time. We resorted to working on chunks at a time, and with the help of Dr. Nour Sinada, our club adviser, we finished our script and were ready to present. After countless emails, March 18th finally came, day one of our week of presentations. Teaching wasn’t a new experience for any of us, but teaching a class of 30 squirmy freshmen definitely was. We had become very passionate about the topic, and we tried to convey that in the way that we presented.

A week later, we had taught around 270 students in classrooms and reached out to over 1,000 students over social media. During and after the campaign, we were met with so many supportive students and faculty. We even had 46 students contact us about either joining the club or volunteering for the Red Cross. We couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity to raise awareness for the Health Care in Danger campaign and for all of the people who have helped us accomplish our goal. We’d like to specifically thank the teachers who lent us their classrooms along with Dan Williams and Dr. Haji Dokhanchi, both of the Red Cross. This has been one of the most vigorous projects we have ever taken on, but it also became an extremely positive experience for our team and club, as well as for also our school and community.

Thank you all for this wonderful experience!

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.

%d bloggers like this: