Volunteers demonstrate their true value at the Rio+20 summit

Published: 20 June 2012 12:13 CET

By Gina Guinta in Rio

Rio +20 Dialogue Days have been making news all week; today the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development actually begins.

While there has been significant coverage of the broad aims of the conference in the news, what is not shown are the hundreds of events, exhibits and discussions taking place alongside the more widely known Rio +20, including the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice. 

The People’s Summit stands out from the typical international event where suits, ties and formality are the norm. For a start it’s in a park, right near a beautiful beach in Rio de Janiero, where participants including indigenous Brazilians come to highlight their needs while local Carioca’s take their daily jog. The people mingling at this Summit are the very people who could most benefit from the formal Rio +20 Dialogues taking place a mere hour away.

There, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies hosted a 90-minute discussion event on the role of youth and women in advancing the food security agenda. It was a spirited conversation and twice during the session, speakers had to pause while people marched and sang for their particular cause.

As if to demonstrate the importance of both youth and volunteering, six young people from the Brazilian Red Cross were nearby to assist those who needed help at a first aid post. They are part of a 100-strong team working 12 hours a day at three first aid posts throughout the People’s Summit.

Many of the volunteers are first timers, such as 19-year-old Luis Eduardo and Frederico, who is 18. Both are supporting more experienced relief and health volunteers, as well as learning on the job.

Frederico said: “I have always admired the work of the Red Cross and wanted to help my people during this important event.”

Alexandre, 25, and Thiago, 21, began volunteering with the Red Cross in January 2011 following floods in the region. Alexandre is now the volunteer Relief Coordinator for the Rio +20 first aid posts, while Thiago is the volunteer Operational Head for Rio +20 first aid posts and now also works as an intern at the Brazilian Red Cross in international relations.

The volunteers were well-placed and made a real difference for many attendees.

Since the event began, more than 350 people have sought out the first aid post for help with everything from high blood pressure and broken bones, to dizziness from the heat, and even one heart attack.