IFRC celebrates the International Year of Youth: focus on dialogue and mutual understanding

Published: 12 August 2010 0:00 CET

Roberta Zuchegna, IFRC, Geneva

What roles are young people playing in their National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world? How do young people contribute to the International Federation?

The International Federation is made up of tens of millions of active volunteers of all ages who all contribute to the humanitarian work of their National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. About half of these humanitarians are young people.

Young people take on many different roles – they are innovators, intercultural ambassadors and peer-to-peer facilitators – and as educated and empowered contributors, they add real value to the governance, management, service development and delivery of their National Societies.

Not only do they add value and make a difference to the running of their National Societies, but they also play a vital role within their communities, offering much-needed skills when working alongside the increasing number of older people. When young and old work together, it is done so in a spirit of mutual respect – something that is crucial for the transfer of experience between the generations – which in turn creates a stable and progressive society.

Young people around the world engage in a wide range of activities, such as HIV and AIDS peer education, promotion of healthy habits, voluntary blood donations, community-based first aid, disaster risk reduction, and environmental and emergency response activities. They are also involved in promoting humanitarian values to increase respect for diversity, intercultural dialogue and social inclusion in their communities.

In the Netherlands, where 33 per cent of the population over 65 feels lonely, 7 per cent of the people in elderly homes never receive a visitor and 10 per cent celebrate Christmas and national holidays alone, young people in the Red Cross have developed the ‘Give-a-day’ programme in order to match the older people’s needs with the willingness of young people to make a positive contribution in their community. Since 2008, the ‘Meet-and-greet’ project has facilitated 1,000 matches between older and young people. The matches may take the form of going out for coffee, dinner or to the cinema, handing out roses on Valentine’s Day at care homes for the elderly, explaining mobile phones or the internet, or even playing Wii Fit together.

In Gambia, the Red Cross realized that people with hearing difficulties needed extra help, so its young people – in collaboration with a local school for the deaf – organized a national training course in sign language for its volunteers. The main objective is to teach first aid to people with hearing difficulties in order to increase their knowledge and skills, but it has also had the added bonus of reducing their vulnerability in emergency situations as many Red Cross volunteers are now able to use sign language.

These are just two examples illustrating the outstanding work being undertaken by young people. This year provides Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies with the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the modern-day concerns of young people, whilst allowing them to propose innovative solutions to social challenges, including bridging the intergenerational divide. IFRC also encourages and supports young people to continue their Red Cross Red Crescent engagement as adults.

IFRC celebrates 12 August as the International Youth Day. The day also sees the launch of the International Year of Youth with a joint statement signed by the world’s largest youth organizations. The statement promotes the ideals of peace, respect for human rights, and solidarity across generations, cultures, religions and civilizations.