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American Teens Learn and Lead at International Red Cross Youth Gathering


When four American Red Cross volunteers packed their bags for a week-long gathering in Gorontalo, Indonesia, they did not know what to expect, but they knew they would meet other “cheerful, smart and friendly” young people from around the world that are passionate about our shared mission — as the jamboree’s slogan promised.

“It definitely describes what the Red Cross is all about. I want to be all three!” said 17-year-old Hannah Miller from Cranston, Rhode Island. She attended the international youth gathering earlier this month with her younger sister Sarah, after having always volunteered together in their community.

This marks the seventh National Youth Red Cross Gathering, which is organized by the Indonesian Red Cross once every five years. The event brings together youth volunteers from 35 Red Cross organizations across five continents. The “jumbara,” or jamboree, is meant to inspire friendship and togetherness among youth volunteers in a lively, cheerful atmosphere. A series of workshops and group activities, ranging from teaching local children how to wash their hands to volunteering with the elderly, challenge participants to overcome language barriers, learn from one another and exchange ideas.

The four American Red Cross volunteers also visited the American Red Cross delegation’s office in Jakarta to learn about its programs in Indonesia, which include preparing the community for future disasters and providing water and sanitation services.

These particular young adults were invited to make the overseas trip because of their interest in international issues and past experience serving as interns, volunteers or leaders with the American Red Cross National Youth Council. Hannah Miller and Lauren Lombardo, a senior at San Francisco State University majoring in social work, joined a group of 10 other international volunteers to tackle Indonesian Red Cross projects that were unlike the programs they had been exposed to in the United States.

“We set up trash cans within the camp by sticking three sticks in the ground and hanging a trash bag over them,” said Miller. “We ended up getting a lot of the children there to help clean up. They were very enthusiastic and helpful. They wanted to clean up their communities; they wanted to make everything look nice.”

While Hannah Miller and Lombardo volunteered within the local community, the Indonesian Red Cross volunteers attended workshops to learn more about their Red Cross society’s programs. In the U.S. young people have been taking initiative and organizing projects in support of the Red Cross for years, but in Indonesia they have just started this process, said Lombardo.

While in Indonesia the girls also participated in a home stay with local families, which allowed them to learn more about the country and experiment with its rich culture and food. Most memorable, however, was the warm welcome they experienced from the surrounding community.

“Everyone wanted to know who we were and where we were from,” Lombardo said. “When they shake your hand there, they bring their other hand to their heart to show that it was meaningful, to show that they were taking it to heart, very literally. Here a handshake is more like a business transaction. But for them, it’s personal. Their arms were open to us the whole time. To see that and to be a part of that pure happiness was great.”

Red Cross programs such as the one in Indonesia teach youth volunteers that while they come from separate backgrounds, they can form a common understanding and a relationship. The “jumbara” challenges youth to look past differences and stand as leaders — a theme that resonates with Sandy Tesch, one of the American Red Cross participants and a resident of California.

“It’s the best possible organization that you can donate your time and money to,” she said. “There are so many opportunities, so it’s great that you can never get bored. And the leadership opportunities are unlike any other organization. I’ve been volunteering since I was 14, and it’s made a huge difference on who I am as a person. I constantly want to recruit more volunteers and donors because I love it so much.”

Even before returning to the U.S., the Miller sisters, Lombardo and Tesch decided to reunite in the future and discussed plans to visit other youth volunteers they met in Indonesia back in their respective countries.

To explore youth volunteer opportunities in your community and around the world, contact the American Red Cross chapter nearest you or subscribe to the American Red Cross youth blog.