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Volunteering for the Red Cross with a Historical Perspective

Unless you are in the military, it’s not part of the daily experience. But for many people in other countries, this is a daily reality.

Ephriam Dickson lives and breathes history as an educator for the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and it is this passion that first drew him into his position as an International Humanitarian Law (IHL) instructor for the American Red Cross.

“As a historian you have a unique perspective,” Dickson said. “Most people have a window of their own personal perspective. But as a historian you have multiple perspectives, years and layers of perspectives.”

As a historian and curator with the Fort Douglas Museum in Salt Lake City, Dickson found himself surrounded by the topic of humanitarian law in conflict. Even in war time, there are established laws that protect civilians, prisoners of war and wounded soldiers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—which has a mandate to teach about these laws—seemed a constant sub-topic to these issues. So when Dickson decided he wanted to get more involved in the community, the Red Cross seemed a natural place to engage his historical interests and passions. He started teaching International Humanitarian Law with the local chapter.

“All these stories overlap,” Dickson said. “As a historian, I’ve read so much about American serviceman who served all around the world during wartime. I’ve read about POWs, how the Japanese Red Cross helped during World War 2, about Austrian/Hungarian internment camps in Utah. It reminds me that it still goes on today. Communicating about these issues is part of the American Red Cross mandate. But sometimes we forget about this piece of it. There are some great programming and IHL materials that make it easy for us to talk to young people about this critical part of our mission.”

When he moved to his new position in Virginia in late 2012, one of the first things he did was find his local Red Cross chapter.

“For me, as a volunteer, being involved in the Red Cross is being part of a community,” Dickson said. “I get satisfaction doing great work but also from being part of this community of people who also have similar passions.”

Why is international humanitarian law so important for Dickson?

“As Americans, for the most part, we haven’t had to face the realities of war in our own land since the Civil War,” he said. “Unless you are in the military, it’s not part of the daily experience. But for many people in other countries, this is a daily reality. IHL reminds people that these are real issues of both international importance and national significance. It is important that as a country we can look at these issues more critically and hold our leadership as a nation more accountable. It’s just part of being a more informed American.”

For more information on the American Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Program, visit

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.