By Lindsay R Peak
When American Red Cross leadership looked for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) delegate recommendations, the opportunity to select a Youth Action Campaign (YAC) volunteer came quickly. Local Red Crosser and high school student Tejasvini Ramesh was ultimately one of five delegates to pack their bags and make the trek to Indonesia to represent the U.S. with more than 4,000 youth from national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across the globe.
The IHL YAC is a Red Cross program that encourages youth and young adults (ages 13-24) to learn about the rules of armed conflict and empowers them to explore and promote IHL through peer-to-peer campaigns. The program remains consistent with the Red Cross principle of impartiality and does not have a political agenda. Its mission is to foster and to empower youth to talk about global issues and become informed through focused themes that change annually.
Tejasvini has been a strong ambassador for the IHL YAC for the last few years, but what sticks out to her peers is her strong leadership skills in collaborating with other regions to create joint virtual events and connect with other Red Cross youth across the country. A member since 2019, she serves as the Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region’s (NCCR) Lead Advocate Mentor.
She started her journey with the Red Cross during her freshman year through her high school’s club. Her friends were already involved, and Tejasvini thought it would be a great way to spend more time together. Not too sure what the club was all about, she attended with an open mind and is so glad that she did. She began her service with general fundraising for causes including hurricane relief and making blankets for veterans before engaging more with initiatives in her local Red Cross region. There, she discovered IHL YAC.
In Tejasvini’s application for this opportunity, the 18-year-old wrote, “While our world is far from becoming completely peaceful, providing my peers with a sense of hope and humanity allowed me to connect with them on a deeper level, one that transcends politics and borders.” These insightful and admirable words aided the national committee in their decision to select her for the international camp hosted every five years.
“Tejasvini is a well-rounded, passionate young humanitarian who I had no doubt would represent our American Red Cross youth well,” says Larissa C. Hatch, IHL YAC Program Officer at the American Red Cross National Headquarters. “She leads with grace and compassion and is someone her peers look up to. As a young leader, Tejasvini’s exceptional skills and unwavering commitment set a remarkable example for her peers, showcasing her potential to drive positive change in her local community and the greater Red Cross Red Crescent Movement,” Hatch adds.
This year’s camp, titled Jumbara IX, ran July 2 through July 10 in South Lampung, Lampung Province, kicking off with a cultural parade hosted by the Indonesian Red Cross. Locals lined the streets as the 11 national societies displayed cultural clothing while marching throughout the village. An opening ceremony welcomed the attendees whereby unique traditions were honored including performances from various provinces. Attendees engaged in workshops and services for the remainder of their stay.
A typical day at the camp consisted of sessions to meet and greet with Indonesian youth, group activities, and neighborhood visits. “The warm spirited energy there was really incredible,” notes Tejasvini.
The hospitality of the Indonesian people was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. “Whenever we walked around, we were welcomed with music. They sang to us, let us play instruments, and taught us traditional dances. Sometimes we were out until midnight,” relives Tejasvini. She described the reception as “a king’s welcome.”
Group discussions were held in the Indonesian language, but that did not hinder understanding one another. Some challenges cited by Indonesian youth included stigma and the notion the Red Cross is solely a medical organization. These youth also expressed a desire for equality, more representation and additional leadership opportunities to promote humanitarian efforts and create space for tomorrow’s leadership.
Other nights, the delegates stayed up late talking to an international friend. She joyfully says, “That was fun!”
The memories made and the collective impact of the experience will stay with Tejasvini and those she crossed paths with for years to come. “The Red Cross is more than blood services and medicine,” she stresses. “There are different lines of service, programs, and opportunities available for everybody…I guarantee you will find something you enjoy.”
She plans to attend UC Irvine in the Fall to study economics and political science. She hopes to continue her involvement with the Red Cross at the collegiate level and is interested in attending law school after completing her undergraduate studies.
The Red Cross is grateful to have amazing young leaders like Tejasvini to articulate the value of the organization for youth and appreciates her pledge to continue her service. If you are interested in promoting IHL in your community by participating in the IHL Youth Action Campaign program, contact your local chapter or email email@example.com