By: Maribel Flores
Hiba Sheikh, a 15-year-old sophomore at Westlake Academy in Westlake, Texas, has been volunteering with the American Red Cross since 2018. Sheikh's interest in the organization was sparked by her cousin, who was part of a Red Cross Club at her school. Sheikh joined the Red Cross Youth International Humanitarian Law (IHL) program and later became a lead advocate, coordinating with team members and higher coordinators to organize events. She particularly enjoyed being a leader and learning about IHL, which eventually became the focus of her personal project, a year-long project required for sophomores at her International Bachelorette school.
Sheikh's passion for helping others led her to research and focus on spreading awareness about IHL and the violations of the four principles of the Geneva Conventions in war zones. Specifically, she focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Kashmiri people, and the Rohingya people. She created slideshows and presented her research to students in grades six through eight to spread awareness about IHL and its importance.
“My motto is to always help others before you help yourself. So that's kind of how I started getting into service,” says Sheikh.
As a result of Sheikh’s interest in advocating for IHL, an advocacy toolkit has been created. The toolkit provides a multitude of resources for students to use to help advocate for themselves and others. The landing page includes links to different resources such as a Google forum, fliers, and an IHL presentation. The welcome page also includes connections to the Red Cross, providing information on how to become a registered volunteer.
The advocacy toolkit has received positive feedback from students and community members alike. Sheikh hopes that the advocacy toolkit will help raise awareness of IHL and encourage individuals to become active leaders in their communities.
The International Red Cross provides many resources for those affected by conflict, and Sheikh hopes to spread the message.
“Even just putting up a flier or sharing the (resource) link that's like one step to making this a better world and a more inclusive world because I want everyone to be an active leader, not a passive listener or someone who's just like, not really caring about it. Yeah, that's me.”
The advocacy toolkit is not limited to middle school students but is intended for high school students and community members as well. Sheikh believes anyone can become an active leader and make the world a more inclusive and better place.
Sheikh also started a Red Cross Club at her own school to promote hands-on activities and awareness of different lines of service offered by the Red Cross. She hopes to inspire more people to become volunteers and participate in club activities.
“I'm the Vice President of the Red Cross Club. We do a bunch of hands-on activities, spreading awareness about different lines of service of the Red Cross, recruiting people to join,” said Sheikh.
During the interview, Sheikh expressed gratitude for the opportunity to make a positive impact at a young age and to help bridge the knowledge gap between the Red Cross's services and the public. She’s applied for the position of youth onboarding specialist, where she manages young adult volunteers and presents volunteer opportunities to new recruits. She finds this position fulfilling and enjoys creating slideshows and presentations, feeling a sense of responsibility as the lead.
Sheikh shared that she initially got involved to improve her knowledge about IHL. The opportunity to earn service hours motivated her but then began to find the work fun and enjoyable. Sheikh mentions “It's something I look forward to doing and talking about every day.”
Thanks to the hard work that Sheikh has put into her Red Cross Club, some of her friends have joined as well, with some even exploring opportunities in the IHL Youth Program. Sheikh emphasized the importance of educating others about IHL and the violations that occur in different countries, and believes that even making her community aware of the existence of IHL is a significant step in the right direction.
Sheikh looks forward to seeing the impact of her work as people take her resources and use them in the future. She hopes to continue her involvement with the Red Cross through high school and beyond, making an impact in her community and around the world. Sheikh's involvement in the Red Cross and her personal project reflects her dedication to service and helping others.