Åsta Ytre of the International Federation
Throughout Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East youth volunteers are working to help other youths, save the environment, prevent the spread of HIV and even give homework advice to fellow students. The International Federation advocates that today’s young volunteers will become tomorrow’s leaders and that young people can bring fresh ideas and an innovative approach to our humanitarian activities.
The question of how to encourage and enable young people to get more involved in volunteering and decision-making processes will be discussed at the Asia and Pacific Regional Conference in Singapore from 19 to 23 November.
There are countless examples of the good work being done by youth volunteers all around the region and the International Federation is promoting more involvement of youths in community action, as well as in National Society structures.
Making a difference
In Papua New Guinea, the Red Cross is making a difference in the lives of young men in squatter settlements. “We are a family now,” says Philip, the newly-elected president of the Koki youth group.
Philip and his friends, many of whom used to sleep on the street, have cleaned up a local centre and have found homes with the help of the Red Cross. Trained in first aid, they have become youth volunteers themselves and are working to improve their communities and the lives of other vulnerable teens and adolescents.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, young people recently learned about the importance of protecting the environment during a Red Cross camp for youths from across the country.
“We hope our presentation will highlight the importance of protecting our environment so we can prevent more disasters,” explains 16-year-old Gratia, who participated in the summer camp.
In Lebanon, Red Cross youth volunteers help girls in public schools with their homework.
“It’s a very satisfying job,” says Carine, who is 17. “You feel that you can make a difference in these children’s lives… It gives you a feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment.”
Thanks to National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world, young people are gaining valuable skills and knowledge aimed at giving them the tools to help themselves and others, while contributing to improving the lives of vulnerable people.
Whether in developing or developed nations, youths are instrumental to increasing the capacity of National Societies to respond to disasters and keep people healthy.
For example, the Nepal Red Cross youth programme aims to strengthen the capacity of young members to deliver humanitarian services within communities. In Australia, a recent youth survey convinced the Red Cross to refocus its national youth programmes to involve and assist a much greater number of young people.
In both cases, one of the main priorities was to involve teens and adolescents youth directly in planning and decision-making.
Active listening and learning
Young people in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are playing an increasingly active role and being recognized for their involvement.
On International Youth Day in August, the International Federation’s president, Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, pointed out that young people who offer their time and skills, and take action to solve problems they see in their communities, “grow up with essential values to contribute to and build a better civil society”.
The president also stressed the importance of involving young people at all stages of the decision-making process and conception of programmes.
“It is up to the adult leaders to listen and to make sure that new generations are exposed to our humanitarian values… This can only be possible through a constructive and fair intergenerational relationship,” he said.
Youth development is not only a Red Cross and Red Crescent priority.
The World Bank says, “the time has never been better to invest in young people”.
According to the organisation’s World Development Report 2007, there are now 1.3 billion young people between the ages of 14 and 24 in the world – a number that is expected to grow to 1.5 billion in 2035 and begin declining thereafter.
More than half of these young people are in the Asia and Pacific region – offering a potentially powerful force to carry out humanitarian work and improve people’s lives.
Youth volunteering is officially recognized as a type of non-formal education, which contributes widely to expanding opportunities, enhancing capabilities and providing second chances for young people.
“We felt like nobodies, but then the Red Cross helped us turn our lives around,” says Philip. “The Red Cross has given us a sense of direction and something to do… now we must try to see what’s good in our society and become responsible for the future.”