By Jerrica L. Williams
It is inevitable that our youth are the future. Every day, young adults around the country and beyond take strides toward improving the communities that they live in. Some of these efforts even contribute to spreading awareness about social concerns that could influence the near and/or far future. Giving youth a platform such as the Youth Action Campaign to address their concerns so that they can be heard on a larger scale, specifically throughout the American Red Cross network, is key to supporting their mission to become humanitarian advocates and to begin to make a change.
The Youth Action Campaign informs youth/young adults and empowers them to educate their communities about International Humanitarian Law (IHL). International Humanitarian Law is the set of rules that govern Armed Conflict. The Youth Action Campaign not only offers an opportunity to learn more about IHL but also encourages the younger generation to start conversations about global issues.
The theme for the 2022 IHL Youth Action Campaign Summit, a month-long summit in July that included a series of virtual events and an in-person session that was held in Washington, DC on July 21-24, was Cultural Property and Cultural Heritage Protections. The purpose of this Summit was to educate attendees on the Youth Action Campaign and to also further their professional development.
The YAC Summit also included a virtual Summit Showcase held on July 30, where after expressing interest, youth are selected to present their awareness campaigns with the intent to inform their peers about a particular topic related to IHL. “This is my first year participating in YAC. It is important to me because I am heavily invested in protecting the environment and respecting history”. Harshitha Ganesan, a 15-year-old student from Cumming, Georgia, was selected as the Division Representative to present her project titled ‘Humanity Exists Everywhere’ at the Summit Showcase this year. In partnership with two other young students, her team created the Humanity Exists Everywhere campaign to emphasize the importance of International Humanitarian Laws and how they help to minimize the effects of war on civilians. Their project also touches on how IHL protects cultural properties like churches, monuments, etc., during times of war.
Harshitha’s humanitarian work started before joining the Youth Action Campaign. Often visiting family in India, Harshitha was moved by the fact that, unlike in the U.S., there was no access to sanitation services in the area. Because of the trash build-up, public streets were filled with trash making it unsafe to successfully navigate. Harshitha, at just 15 years old, contacted the local government to address her concerns about the trash levels. By doing this, she was able to secure 26 trash cans and even got a local school to agree to commit to picking up trash weekly. This is an example of youth taking a stand to better their communities, which is one of the components of the Youth Action Campaign.
“Hearing some absolutely wonderful people at Summit speak was so motivational it actually brought tears to my eyes. This is truly such a magical program, and I am looking forward to doing it next year as well.”, said Harshitha after participating in the first sessions during the Summit. Her personal goal during the Summit was to learn from her peers and to improve her public speaking skills.
Each event during the YAC Summit Series was uniquely assembled by the national IHL team. The summit series also offers several opportunities for engagement and networking. Larissa Hatch, YAC Program Officer, says “the Youth Action Campaign helps youth to become advocates and leaders.”
The National Showcase, the closing event, featured remarks by American Red Cross President and CEO, Gail McGovern, and Koby Langley, American Red Cross Senior Vice President, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services. The launch of the new 2022-23 YAC theme was announced as Environment and Armed Conflict during the National Showcase.
If you know anyone between the ages of 13-24 that may be interested in joining the Youth Action Campaign in Georgia, please contact Anne.Sodipo@redcross.org.
About IHL Youth Action Campaign
The American Red Cross’s International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Youth Action Campaign empowers youth and young adults, ages 13-24, to learn about International Humanitarian Law—the body of law that governs armed conflict – and is open to the public to register to learn more.
For general information, please visit https://www.redcross.org/humanityinwar/international humanitarian-law-youth-action-campaign.html.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds, and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members, and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission.
For more information, please visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.