Saleh Dabbakeh in Cairo
Youth, the role they play in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the problems they face was the focus of the 9th Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Mediterranean.
Inaugurated by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, president of the Egyptian Red Crescent and first lady of the country, the conference discussed presentations on the role of youth in relief operations, youth and violence, addiction and AIDS.
“Today, we see that our region has been overcome by a chain of suffering and insecurity for its people, women and children despite the unique cultural setting and texture,” Mubarak told an audience of over 200 people at the opening ceremony.
“Hence, we find ourselves in a desperate need to spread the humanitarian values on which the RCRC Movement has been founded and increasing the role of international humanitarian law, including the four Geneva Conventions.”
“Youth represents over 80 per cent of volunteers. Without them the Red Cross and Red Crescent would not be able to respond to the needs of vulnerable societies,” said Juan Manuel Suarez Del Toro, IFRC president.
“We must remember that they are not only volunteers working to deliver programmes related to the four core areas, but that they are also the leaders of tomorrow.”
Other speakers included ICRC president Jackob Kellenberger, Dr Muhammad Al-Hadid, chairman of the Red Cross Red Crescent Standing Commission, Marc Gentilini, president of the 8th Mediterranean Conference and Dr. Mamdouh Jabre, president of the Egyptian Red Crescent.
A number of presentations and reports were delivered by National Societies, the preparatory committee and the Red Cross office of the EU on youth camps, youth and relief, youth and violence in addition to youth and addiction/AIDS.
Despite the fact that youth and their problems were the focus of the conference, the presence of youth participants at the conference was limited to a few National Societies.
Involving youth in such meetings to allow them to discuss issues related to them was one of the main recommendations of the meeting.
When asked about what can be done to increase youth participation in such meetings Dr Taher Cheniti, Secretary General of the Tunisian Red Crescent and head of the drafting committee said the best way would be to follow the gender model.
“If you want to ensure participation of youth in the decision-making process, you have to stick to percentages,” he explained, “for example, a third of the governance structures could be made up of youth.”
“The need for economic stability actually prevents youth from running for office within many National Societies,” he explained, “hence, we must create proper mechanisms to involve them automatically in the leadership.”
In addition to the meetings, the Egyptian Red Crescent organized visits to a number of interesting programmes it has implemented to improve the lives of some of the poorest people in Cairo, a city with about 20 million inhabitants.
Established in 1912, the Egyptian Red Crescent Society has been active in building housing projects for inner city poor assisted by large donations from the private sector.
Completed several years ago, the first phase of the project has been hosting 348 families who lived in what used to be a slum area. Each apartment includes two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a small veranda and is designed to accommodate a family of five.
The complex has a women’s centre, a health centre, a cultural centre, a mosque, and schools. Women are trained in embroidery and sewing to help families supplement their income.
An important aspect of these projects is to keep residents together in the same neighbourhood to help maintain the bonds that have formed among them. The project buildings have replaced disorganised, unlicensed urban slums where disease and crime were rife.
The second phase of the Zenhoum project, to build an additional 984 apartments, is under construction in the old part of Cairo. The first 576 apartments are expected to be ready next July, the rest before the end of the year.
When construction is finished, the Zenhoum project, one of several major Egyptian red Crescent housing projects, will accommodate the 1800 families, or 9,000 people that used to live in very harsh conditions in the Zenhoum slums.
The difference is remarkable: They now have nice apartments to live in, a clean neighbourhood, a healthier and safer environment and schools for their children.