by Satu Santala
Samson is making Red Cross history. Twenty-five-year-old Samson
is the first African delegate to be sent to a European National
Society to work as a long-term development delegate. This time,
the concept of development cooperation is working in reverse
with the south teaching the north — and with excellent
Samson left his home in Uganda in October 1994 to develop
a community-based project among youth in the Finnish Red Cross
(FRC). The project’s main purpose is to develop local
youth activities that answer the needs of the community, a
concept that is new to FRC youth but one that is tried and
tested in many places in Africa.
needs to action
A pilot phase of the project, known as “From needs
to action”, was launched in the first half of 1995 in
two districts in Finland. The aim is to help youth clubs renew
their activities by introducing the ideas of community-based
activities and a participatory methodology.
“During the spring we organised three weekend courses
explaining the concepts of the community-based approach and
participation,” Samson says. “Between training
sessions, the participants carried out assignments with our
support to practise what they’d learned. For instance,
youth leaders mobilised their clubs to interview some 50 people
to find out how they view their lives and to see how FRC youth
might be able to help them.”
Samson has been working closely with employed FRC staff in
the two districts, but the project itself is limited to volunteer
youth members. To-gether with Samson, a district working group
of three volunteers has been planning and implementing the
pilot phase of the project. A second group, composed of former
Finnish youth delegates, is helping Samson in the planning
and follow-up of the whole project.
“I share my ideas and experiences with my Finnish counterparts,”
Samson continues, “but it’s the young volunteers
who do most of the work. In this way, they will gain enough
experience to be able to carry out the project on their own.
“So far, the pilot project is going very well. Members
are active and enthusiastic and our cooperation is constantly
improving. I feel that all youth members involved in this
project are very eager to renew the activities of FRC youth
The bigger picture
Obviously, the FRC motives for inviting an African development
delegate go far beyond the tangible results of the youth project.
The educational value of this type of cooperation is extremely
important to the FRC which has been active in development
cooperation with sister National Societies since the 1960s.
“Through this project, we want to stress the fact that
we in the so-called developed world have a lot to learn from
those in the so-called developing world,” Jouni Hemberg,
FRC Youth Director, explains. “This is a very good way
of promoting international understanding, tolerance and a
sense of global responsibility among our young people. In
this way, the project is in line with our youth policy in
which prevention of ethnocentrism is an important issue.”
In addition, the project and the philosophy behind it are
relevant for the entire Movement. “Activities that grow
out of the real needs of the community ultimately serve our
organisation and motivate our young people. In general, the
Red Cross is always up against the challenge of attracting
and keeping young people interested and active. That means
it has to change to meet new realities,” Hemberg stresses.
“Until now, the community based approach has been relatively
unknown in the FRC. On the other hand, we knew that in developing
countries these ideas and methodologies have been widely used.
Samson’s expertise is therefore invaluable to us.”
Turning the concept upside-down
The Finnish Red Cross has been active in development cooperation
with its sister National Societies in developing countries
since the 1960s. In the late 1980s, the concept of sending
youth delegates from Finland to work in developing countries
was introduced in FRC and modelled on similar programmes being
carried out in the Swedish Red Cross. Notably, Finnish youth
have worked in Ethiopia and Romania.
The idea of “From needs to action” grew directly
out of experiences of youth delegate programmes. FRC youth
felt strongly that it was time to invite a development delegate
from the south to Finland. There had been much talk about
development being a two-way street, but nothing concrete had
come of it. They decided to do something about it.
The Ugandan youth delegate’s project in Finland is
part of a wider cooperation among the youth in both National
Societies. Among other things, this cooperation will include
regular local level contacts and youth delegate exchanges.
According to Helena Korhonen, the extended cooperation will
hopefully begin as soon as negotiations with the Ugandan Red
Cross are completed.
Costs of the project, including travel, allowances, accommodation
and operational expenses, were covered by Folke Bernadotte
Foundation. This foundation is funding the international youth
activities of some Finnish NGOs.
The pilot phase of the project has already proven that its
approach is sound and effective. A mid-term evaluation gave
the project good marks both in supporting local youth activities
and in promoting international understanding. According to
the evaluation, the project has grown into an activity run
by youth on their own terms and its structure leaves plenty
of room for creativity.
“There is a new wind blowing among the youth,”
Hemberg says. “Samson’s personal input has been
strong and we are very pleased with his work.”
Naturally, the project has not been without its share of
setbacks, many of them familiar to anyone who has been involved
with development cooperation. Planning was not sufficient
or clear enough and getting the project started took time.
Interestingly enough, these are often the same difficulties
experienced when development delegates from the north head
south. Apparently, the location of the host country doesn’t
have much of a bearing on the matter.
“The beginning was a little difficult,” Samson
says. “The substance of my work was not clearly defined
and nobody really seemed to know what should be done in the
districts. The people who actually worked with me had not
been involved enough in the planning from the beginning.”
In spite of the slow start, the FRC is very proud of the
work Barrigye Samson is doing. “This project provides
us with the opportunity of learning a different way of thinking
and a different culture which promotes international cooperation
and understanding,” Helena Korhonen, Director of FRC
International Department, says. “The Red Cross being
a worldwide Movement gives us enormous strength and unlimited
opportunities. We can learn from each other and, obviously,
it is not at all true that we in the north are supposed to
be the teachers. At the Finnish Red Cross, we can happily
attest to the contrary.”
Satu Santala works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in
Helsinki and is a Finnish Red Cross volunteer.
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