Story by Richard Payne
Creating a successful campaign focused on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) that is fun, engaging, and educational would seem like a daunting task. Doing it with a virtual team of high school students who never met face-to-face would seem doubly difficult. Yet, the winning team in the 2022-2023 Northern California Coastal Region (NCCR) IHL Youth Action Campaign did just that.
In Northern California, 8 teams, comprised of nearly 40 high school students, participated in IHL training. Each team then developed and delivered IHL awareness campaigns at their schools during the academic year. As a culmination of the campaign, a symposium was held to showcase each team’s work, the struggles they faced and the efforts they took to overcome those challenges. A panel of judges scored each campaign on a series of factors and chose the team that demonstrated the best problem-solving and leadership skills.
Razi Aftab and Paulina Munoz led the winning team, which included students from two of the region’s Red Cross chapters – the North Bay and the Heart of the Valley Chapter, covering Stockton and the surrounding area. Because the team members lived far apart, they only met virtually in weekly calls.
Paulina believed the bond they formed was one of the team’s greatest strengths. “The best part of the campaign was being able to work as a team throughout the term. We got to know the other team members and felt connected. As a result, we were a lot more productive,” she said/
In building their campaign, the team members identified that their peers had limited knowledge of the Red Cross or International Humanitarian Law. That’s why the team felt that engaging students had to be their number one priority.
“Attracting youth to be involved in the campaign was a challenge. That’s why we focused on having activities that we thought our peers would enjoy as opposed to approaching this campaign from a teaching perspective,” Razi explained.
During the academic year, each team member organized and hosted events at their school around the topic of IHL. The team also created activities and events such as interactive question-based games that tested the advocate’s knowledge on IHL.
“Probably the most distinct event was our escape room,” Razi said. “We had case studies on International Humanitarian Law and asked the advocates to work through those examples. They had to review the scenarios and apply the information they had learned to come up with the best option. We had very good engagement with that!”
In summarizing their personal experiences with the campaign, Razi shared: “Our greatest takeaway was that we were able to foster a sense of community. The program felt like a group effort rather than an academic exercise. It was voluntary and each person contributed to reaching the end goal of increasing the understanding of International Humanitarian Law.”
Paulina had similar sentiments about this experience: : “A lot of the students who participated in the campaign came into it with no idea what international humanitarian law was about. Through their participation in the campaign, they took away an understanding of IHL and the knowledge that international humanitarian law and services were more available to them than they thought. It was a great way to get them to know their community, the Red Cross, and what we stand for as a society.”
Congratulations to these incredible teams on formulating a thoughtful campaign and for spreading awareness about IHL!