The American Red Cross’ International Humanitarian Law program empowers youth and young adults, ages 13-24, to learn about International Humanitarian Law – the body of law that governs armed conflict. Each year, outstanding young people who participate in the IHL program are selected to represent their region/division at the IHL annual Summit in Washington, D.C. This year the Texas Gulf Coast region will be represented by Emily Wang and Sara Khokar.
Emily Wang is a 17-year-old junior who got involved with the Red Cross more than two years ago. She helped start the Red Cross Club at her school. At the time she was not familiar the IHL program. Fortunately, a friend led her through the experience of working in the IHL program and this year she became a team lead.
Some of the many things that Emily and her team do is hold team meetings, reach out to clubs in other high schools and involved people from other parts of the region. A lot of people found IHL interesting, even people not originally involved in the Red Cross.
As a student at Clear Creek High School in League City, Emily said that she was a bit far from Houston. The distance problem was ironically solved during COVID since Emily had to stay home and do her schoolwork remotely. All IHL meetings were also switched to a virtual format. In addition, she found she had a lot of free time that she used to actively participate in the IHL program. Emily explains that it pushed her out of her comfort zone, and she did things she never expected to do.
“It was super fulfilling work, and I enjoyed the entire process. I’m not a very open person and I don’t communicate with others naturally, and yet I found myself taking on leadership roles and doing planning and communicating with others,” said Emily.
Emily stated that there are two ways you can pursue an action campaign through a Red Cross club: You can do virtual/in-person events. Among the events sponsored by her club were trivia nights and a Jeopardy game using only IHL terms to both teach and entertain. They also reached out to other high school clubs in the region. One of her club’s most successful efforts was a week-long information booth set up at her school’s cafeteria during lunch hour where club members distributed pamphlets and answered questions about IHL. The other way to pursue an action campaign, according to Emily, is through social media.
“We used Instagram and Instagram Stories. We did infographics too. Most people were open to receive information about IHL. We did in-person presentations too but during Covid all events were virtual,” said Emily.
The IHL offers opportunities for participants to learn about other cultures. Emily is Chinese-American, and Sara comes from a Pakistani background. They both talked about how cultural preservation starts by becoming aware of other cultures. They were both surprised by the fact that most people they spoke with were not aware of the International Humanitarian Law. They agreed that cultural awareness needs to begin at an early age and that people must be held accountable for preserving their culture and protecting the rights of individuals in other parts of the world and from diverse cultures, whose rights are being violated.
Sara is particularly interested in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. But other students could be interested in the Russian/Ukraine war or the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, explains Sara. She hopes that the IHL Summit will yield presentations that will reach more people and perhaps raise awareness about the mistreatment of people in various parts of the world and spark the need for change.
Emily and Sara look forward to working with youth volunteers and advocates from across the country at the Summit.
“I want to learn what they did in their campaigns and how I might be able to use this next year. It inspires me,” said Emily.
Sara said that they also look forward to meeting and talking with professionals in the field and in charge of implementing the International Humanitarian Law around the world.
“Being a Red Cross volunteer is a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, you get to meet other people interested in international humanitarian law,” said Emily.
Emily feels that it is very important we learn about IHL and the impact it has on the future. Getting more people involved will allow for a positive impact.