Red Cross Red Crescent: the next generation

Published: 5 December 2001 0:00 CET

John Sparrow in Budapest

He is just another blond-haired boy laughing with his friends, another nine-year-old full of energy and making the most of childhood. But Piotrek Skalski also cares about other children and that has made him Polish Red Cross school volunteer of the year.
Piotrek isn't yet one of the 97 million Red Cross and Red Crescent members and volunteers around the world who ensure emergency relief reaches victims of disaster, who teach children and adults about disease prevention, risk their lives caring for the wounded in conflict areas, engage in search and rescue, raise funds and recruit blood donors. But on December 5, International Volunteer Day, he has booked a place among them, a sure sign that the next generation is emerging.

No sooner had he started primary school in his home town of Lodz than Piotrek joined its Polish Red Cross Squirrel Club where a teacher told him a good squirrel brushes his teeth three times a day, goes to the dentist every six months and helps other people. He took the advice, a friendly boy with a willing smile who ensures the smaller ones get their soup to the school cantine table safely, helps them after classes with their homework, and fund raises with his red tin can when there's a need to.

He may not comprehend how 14 million Poles can live in awful conditions, or 1.5 million Polish children can be undernourished, but he understands full well that some youngsters are without the safe and happy home he is blessed with and that he can do something about it. Piotrek was one of the activists in a Gold Rush campaign that, in the two months culminating in World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day in Lodz this year, raised more than $5,000 so socially deprived children could enjoy a summer camp among other things. The gold was in the form of one, two and five-grosz pieces (not big bucks since there are 100 grosz in a zloty and four zlotys to a dollar), and Piotrek mobilised school forces to collect them, his own can rattling the loudest.

When he has finished his Little Rescuer Course, he will be teaching his friends how to assist victims of accidents. Says his own teacher Teresa Brych, who runs the school's Red Cross clubs, "He never stops asking me what else he can do. He even motivates me to work harder." Naturally his mother is proud of him. "He has always been a caring boy," she says. "He stops at every crying child, helps elderly people across the street, and gives them his seat on the bus."

But, she reveals, there is a down side to his volunteerism. "It's all these unhappy animals he brings home," she says. "Cats. Dogs. Mice. It's sometimes hard for me to explain that we cannot give a home to everything. He says the Red Cross must. He insists on impartiality."

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