Volunteers lead by example in the promotion of peace

Published: 26 November 2011 10:48 CET

Stephen Ryan

Every day, 4,200 people die in violent circumstances – a figure that is, annually, equivalent to the population of Vienna. Violence, often perceived as something that happens somewhere else, in a conflict zone or a dangerous quarter of a distant city, has become embedded in parts of our culture and, for many, is seen as a normal part of life. Through a number of initiatives and projects, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is attempted to provide an alternative to this idea.

Violence, discrimination and exclusion are too often dealt with in isolation, as if they are separate issues. And yet they have common root causes. The work of the Red Cross Red Crescent is guided by its Fundamental Principles, supported by values such as peace, equality and compassion. Every day, all over the world, volunteers challenge discrimination and promote tolerance, fostering a culture of peace built on these very values.

Young people in particular can offer innovative solutions to the problems of violence in their communities. Recognizing this, the IFRC has developed the 'Youth as agents of behavioural change programme' (YABC), to empower young people to be the change they want to see in the world. Already, 285 volunteers across 75 countries have been trained as peer educators through the programme. Rather than waiting until tomorrow, these young people are leading the way today.

Other programmes, such as Bulgaria's pioneering 'Together for a better life', will promote anti-discrimination, with the aim of creating ambassadors for marginalized groups. This was one of the programmes recently recognized in the IFRC Youth Awards.

Promoting a culture of non-violence is not limited to the young. The Red Cross Red Crescent engages volunteers of all ages, bringing different perspectives and skills to the Movement, but encouraging everyone to contribute toward the vision of promoting human dignity and peace in our world.

Bekele Geleta, IFRC Secretary General, used his address at the 18th General Assembly in Geneva to highlight the importance of promoting peace across all parts of the Movement. "In these challenging times, the realization is growing within governmental systems that they urgently need you: the National Societies," he said. "They are recognizing that the Red Cross Red Crescent, through voluntary involvement, is a positive force for promoting good citizenship and social stability in turbulent times."

A culture of non-violence and peace may seem like a fanciful dream, but unless we take the first steps - and encourage others to join us - it will never become a reality. The IFRC and its 187 National Societies can provide the example that is needed.