With additional reporting by Amanda Crabbe (Greater NY Red Cross Chapter), Emily Martin (National Capital Region Red Cross Chapter) and Eric Sigmund (American Red Cross)
Over the next few weeks, an estimated 16.3 million high school students will be heading back to school, bringing the inevitable “what I did for summer break” conversations to hallways across the country. But for nearly 40 high school students, these conversations won’t center on beach vacations or part-time jobs. They will be about war and human dignity.
As part of the American Red Cross youth engagement efforts, students in both New York City and Washington, D.C., participated in innovative activities that educate young people about international humanitarian law. These interactive programs teach the importance of preserving human dignity in times of armed conflict, a concept that has been part of the Red Cross mission for more than 150 years.
“I do believe in the whole global connection of Red Cross teaching us peace and how to care for everyone regardless of race or gender or ideals,” said Kai DeBus, a Virginia student volunteer and participant in the interactive programs. “I feel that we can implement that for the future.”
Thirteen high school students in New York City wrestled with questions such as: How should prisoners of war be treated? Should there be rules around armed conflict? Am I supposed to help enemies once they’ve been wounded?
As part of a month-long American Red Cross Exploring Humanitarian Law program, these students, most from local Red Cross high school clubs, met four times a week for a mix of class work, guest lectures and field trips. They followed real-life events, including conflicts in Syria and Mali, to study how the concepts they were learning applied in real life situations.
One day, among the hills of a rural paintball course near Washington D.C., 25 student volunteers learned about the importance of human dignity in wartime. They participated in an interactive war zone simulation that teaches teens about international humanitarian law through a series of seven interactive stations.
Students went through hypothetical situations to experience the dilemmas and dangers involved in conflict zones. “Aid workers” dodged “snipers,” armed with water guns as they attempt to deliver aid to civilians in distress. “Medics” provided critical assistance to wounded soldiers (mannequins) from friendly and opposing forces. “Commanding officers” discussed appropriate targets. After each station, participants discussed how the rules of war applied to each situation. The last of the seven stations was a trial, where students were judged on their adherence to the rules of war over the day. There was also time to reflect on the day’s lessons with peers.
So, as students around the country return to school, bringing new school supplies and tales of summer adventures, these students will bring lessons about human dignity back to their class mates.