by Lauren Woglom
I started volunteering for the Red Cross on my 8th birthday. At the age of 11, I learned about the Measles Initiative, an international partnership led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and World Health Organization, that has been working for the last decade to reduce the number of measles deaths around the globe. As I learned about the initiative, I was incredibly moved by the images that I saw of the children living in poverty in Africa. I was appalled to learn that mothers would not name their children until they reached the age of 4 or 5 for fear that they would become attached to a child that would die of measles, and I could not believe that $1 would buy a measles vaccine that could change the lives of those families. Although I had known that there were people living in the world whose lives were less comfortable and less safe than mine, I realized for the first time that I could do something to help lessen the burden felt by those who were suffering. Through my interest in the Measles Initiative, I first learned about the satisfaction of volunteer work and developed a passion for the work of the Red Cross Movement. At this time, I also became a part of the Red Cross family, a family that has supported me and pushed me to do things that I never would have imagined that I could do. Although I have continued to volunteer with the organization, the Red Cross has paid me handsomely with leadership experience, opportunities to practice public speaking, lessons in networking and chances to travel across the US and internationally.
Most recently, my experience as a Red Cross volunteer took me to Washington, DC, where I was a summer intern in the International Services Department. As a member of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Dissemination team, I was a part of a group that is working to inspire Americans to understand the universal concepts of humanitarianism and human dignity that are outlined in the Geneva Conventions. As an intern, it was my responsibility to draw from my background as a Red Cross volunteer and a university student to find innovative ways to teach American youth about the international standards of humanitarianism.
At the beginning of the summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Oslo, Norway to participate in a conference for the Promotion of IHL to Young People, which was hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Norwegian Red Cross. At this conference, I met people who have worked and lived all over the world, was able to hear about the ways in which 20 different National Societies of the Red Cross Movement are teaching about IHL to the young people in their countries, and had the opportunity to present the findings of a break out session in front of all the conference participants. Although it would seem that this trip would be the highlight of my summer experience, it was only a part of what made my internship so rewarding.
As an intern, it was my responsibility to draw from my background as a Red Cross volunteer and a university student to find innovative ways to teach American youth about the international standards of humanitarianism.
I truly enjoyed that fact that I was able to build upon the lessons that I have learned as a Red Cross volunteer and as a student at the University of Delaware in the work that I was assigned. Using my background in peer tutoring as a Writing Fellow with the Honors Program, for example, I worked with another intern to develop a model of peer-to-peer IHL education for university students. I also had the opportunity to co-author an article that was published in Social Education, a national Social Studies education journal, that outlined the ways in which education about IHL can be used to teach about social issues, such as bullying, that appear in American schools every day.
I found that the most rewarding aspect of my internship, however, was the knowledge that I was part of a team whose work has incredible value. Through their efforts to teach about the importance of International Humanitarian Law, the IHL team promotes a message of humanitarianism that transcends international boundaries, cultures, faiths and languages. It is a message of tolerance, respect, and compassion that highlights the very best of humanity and reminds us that the world is a beautiful place when we all make the choice to treat one another with dignity.