Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rules of War

International Humanitarian Law and Why It Matters

By Tezeta Tesfay, Volunteer Raid Cross Facilitator

As I transition into my senior year of college I have begun placing a greater emphasis on how I envision my future career while becoming more aware of the opportunities that exist to help guide me towards the right direction. After years of exploring my potential niche, I finally discovered that my passion lies in humanitarian work and international affairs. It's for this reason that I found myself eager to express my interest in volunteering with the American Red Cross for their 2014 Raid Cross event.

I first learned about Raid Cross from an email sent through the Howard University Career Center. The message briefly mentioned how the American Red Cross was looking for volunteers to participate during an event at Cardozo High School called Raid Cross 2014, a program designed to educate high school students about International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Instantly, I believed that I could benefit educationally and personally due to my belief in how essential it is to educate young people about current international events and the efforts of organizations like the Red Cross, who play a strong role in helping to remedy some of the devastating effects of war on individuals globally.

Recently, I became informed that many years ago, members of my own family had been held as prisoners of war.  My father had been a prisoner of war when the country of Eritrea went into war with Ethiopia for ownership over a particular region of land. Tensions were high in Ethiopia and as a result many young men, including my father, felt it necessary to take it upon themselves to establish new forms of leadership. Their act of defiance against their own government eventually led to my father’s capture. He was eventually released after my mother pled with military officials to whom she had family ties. When I think over the events that affected my own parents, I cannot help but to feel personally connected to all of the individuals who face similar experiences; and thus, I am compelled to contribute in any way that I can towards bringing awareness of International Humanitarian Law.

Prior to my involvement with Raid Cross, my knowledge of IHL had been very limited. After participating in the event I am proud to say that I am now able to confidently reiterate the basics of IHL. Like most people, my ability to learn such extensive material is actually limited by the traditional class room setting. Raid Cross however, is so dynamic in that it is designed to provide students an educational experience through interactive activities that are crafted with the purpose of truly impacting one's learning ability. During this event I took on the role of a prison guard who “raids” the students and then “interrogates” them as prisoners of war. I found that presenting the information in this manner allowed the students to have fun while critically analyzing how actual prisoners of war may feel in such a predicament. To my surprise, the students were able to use their imaginations in order to actually embody the role of prisoners of war. The circumstances they were able to create for themselves while role playing were not only rewarding but a heart warming personal experience as well.

While the day consisted of fun-filled challenging activities, my favorite portion of Raid Cross was in fact the debriefing moment in which the students are given an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and opinions regarding the previous post. It was at this moment I truly realized how intelligent and bright the students were. Even when their comments may have seemed to go against popular opinion, the students were still able to defiantly express their own positions confidently while maintaining an open mind; and because they were able to do this, I myself became more aware of the differences in perspectives dealing with some of the controversies regarding the policies of IHL.

Raid Cross 2014 was without question the best volunteer activity I have ever participated in. The facilitators were great, I was able to meet other students from Howard University, I met other Red Cross volunteers who gave me great career advice, the students were engaging and fun to be around, and the program overall opened me up to new ideas and information. I am really glad I played a role in this event, and I would encourage anyone else who may have an opportunity to participate to do so. 

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