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Youth on the move


It started with an idea. Today, it is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, present in 186 countries and with tens of millions of volunteers.

In June, 500 youth from 149 countries gathered for the third Red Cross Red Crescent World Youth Meeting in Solferino, Italy. This is the place where a 31-year-old, Henry Dunant, horrified by the battle of Solferino, asked how we can do more to reduce suffering.

Dunant’s question is still relevant. The world is riven by conflict, poverty, migration, violence, climate change, sickness and discrimination. And his spirit still inspires humanitarian action. Youth leaders at the meeting, with the theme ‘Youth on the move’, represent tens of millions of youth volunteers on the front lines of today’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. What will they take home from Solferino?

Amal Emam
Egyptian Red Crescent Society
"I am not here in this life just for me; I have a responsibility towards my community, towards my country. I have found a real opportunity through the Egyptian Red Crescent to build up myself and to offer service to my community."

It is a hot June day in northern Italy. The sun beats down on a huge expanse of mown fields. Out of buses pour young women and men wearing uniforms bearing crosses, crescents and crystals, and lugging suitcases and backpacks. Some have travelled three days to be here. They blink in the midsummer light.

Within minutes they mingled with other youth from all over the world. They exchanged National Society pins and, for four intense days, shared tents, meals and discussions at the third Red Cross Red Crescent World Youth Meeting – this year themed ‘Youth on the move’.

“We stay in tents with different ethnicities, different people,” said Salimata Konan, a participant from the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire. “We don’t even speak the same language but we communicate. My neighbour is from China and it’s strange but we manage to communicate. It demonstrates the principle of humanity. It touches me deeply.”

Moshe Ohayon Danenberg
Magen David Adom in Israel
"It is very important to stick to the humanitarian principles and values because in our region sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish what you are doing — is it good or is it bad? When you use the principles and values you’ve got some kind of code you can use."

In the footsteps of Dunant

These dry fields are the same place where, 150 years ago in June 1859, young Genevan businessman Henry Dunant was appalled by the needless suffering and death following the battle of Solferino. In the absence of any trained help, he organized local people to transport the wounded and give them water, food and first aid. Afterwards, he wrote A Memory of Solferino, in which he conceived the idea of what is today the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Dunant’s spirit continues to inspire youth today, said Lyn Garcia, the president of the national youth council of the Philippine National Red Cross.

“There’s a part in A Memory of Solferino where no one helps him and he knocks on the door looking for someone who can help him. Ladies come to help and they organize a simple hospital,” she said. “I relate it to myself. Now I am the one asking for other people to help the Red Cross because we are here for suffering people. We are here for humanity. Without us, what will happen to the Movement? Without us, what will happen to vulnerable people? So that’s my inspiration from Henry Dunant.”

The Youth Meeting, which takes place every ten years, included workshops and practical exercises on topics considered important and voted on by young people, such as preventing the spread of HIV, recruiting volunteers and building branches, dealing with disaster, climate change, the rights of children, water and sanitation, forced migration, restoring family links and the Sphere Project’s minimum standards.

Salimata Konan
Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire
"In the future I see youth in charge, youth who are not afraid to see two people of the same sex holding hands. I hope at the next Solferino many more people participate and don’t hide their sexual choice. I support diversity."

The evenings brought concerts, competitions and ‘share and compare’ cultural exchanges with handicrafts, food, dancing and singing. In addition, people of all ages from every National Society were invited to take part in activities at a ‘humanitarian village’ and carry a torch in the fiaccolata, an annual candlelit procession following in the footsteps of Dunant and his volunteers.

In 1859, non-discrimination was important to Dunant, who gave aid to soldiers regardless of which side they were on. This year, too, non-discrimination was a theme running through events, which culminated in a Youth Declaration drafted in Solferino. Travelling by bus and on foot, 228 young people carried the declaration on the ‘journey of an idea’ and presented it to governments, the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations and the leadership of the Red Cross Red Crescent in Geneva.

The declaration calls on National Societies to “declare that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable in our Movement, including discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation”.

Yacid Estrada Santiago
Colombian Red Cross Society
“In the workshop we explained how we became infected [with HIV] and the stigma we had to faceso that really makes people change. They can say, ‘Now I know someone with HIV’. It lowers the stigma.”

For Konan, non-discrimination is an essential part of the future of the Movement. “I see youth in charge, youth who are not afraid to see two people of the same sex holding hands. I hope at the next Solferino many more people participate and don’t hide their sexual choice,” she said.

But first, there is work to be done. Amal Emam, an Egyptian Red Crescent Society volunteer, said her very presence in Solferino helped educate youth who have difficulty looking past her headscarf.

“I know for many people I show diversity,” said Emam, a young doctor. “Just look into my heart and my mind and then we can talk. I look at people as individuals, hearts and minds, not colour and clothes. Feeling you’re being discriminated against for clothes and colour or religion is really hard.”

Lyn Garcia
Philippine National Red Cross
"Let’s invest in youth because what will happen when the youth become the adults? If we invest now in youth, the people who will lead the organization in the future will know how to run it and what is good for it."

Be the change you wish to see

Diversity enriches humanitarian work, she said. For example, during an exercise in a workshop on international humanitarian law, her team’s task was to get members from one side of a rope to the other. The solution seemed obvious: lift everyone over. But as a Muslim woman, Amal Emam didn’t feel comfortable being lifted. She could have bowed to social pressure — or walked away from the exercise.

Instead, the young doctor challenged the group to find another way.

“It’s important when you’re looking for solutions to always search for alternatives because there is no one truth. It’s our power as youth to think of alternatives,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure there were others who weren’t comfortable either but they didn’t say. Be brave enough to say you’re not comfortable. People will follow you and help you.”

John Muathe
Kenya Red Cross Society
"Being in t he water and sanitation depar tment, my motivation is seeing the smile on an old woman’s face when you get water. When she gets clean water, she says ‘Thank you’, and I am happy. I have achieved."

In the end, the group all agreed to form steps with their hands to transfer participants across the rope. It was a solution Amal Emam was happy with.

“I’m really proud to be part of this organization. Maybe if I had these ideas in another organization, they would not be considered. It’s the power of the people in our Movement.” She said she had volunteered in different organizations but felt most at home with the Movement’s Fundamental Principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.

“This is something unique to our Movement and to our National Societies. I can be a physician and offer help but if I lack the humanity or impartiality there will be something missing.”

Henry Dunant
Founder of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
"All can, in one way or another, each in his own sphere and within his own limitations, do something to help the good work forward."

Diversity can be an issue after disasters, said Telma Tondo, 25, an Italian Red Cross volunteer since 2001, who helped organize the Youth Meeting. She also served in the aftermath of Italy’s Abruzzo earthquake, which cost the lives of more than 200 people including two Italian Red Cross volunteers, Daniela Bortoletti and Martina Di Battista.

After the earthquake, the Italian Red Cross asked Tondo to run a clown therapy programme with children living in temporary camps, where conflict between local people and immigrants continued after the disaster. She and other volunteers encouraged children to play together, even though their parents were barely on speaking terms.

Toshe Kamilarovski
Red Cross of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
"People are used to saying ‘This is man’s work and women should stay home and do the housework and men should bring home money’. Perhaps we cannot be equal physically because of different strengths but we can be equal in our minds. I think this is very important for my country."

Strength in diversity

Yacid Estrada Santiago, community health coordinator for the Colombian Red Cross Society and a member of RC/RC+, a network of people living with HIV, said youth needed to learn through experience.

“Once you have met someone living with HIV you will really understand the human side of it. Otherwise it will be just a disease and something that you have to make some efforts in order to prevent it,” he said.

“For example in the workshop we explained how we became infected and the stigma that we had to face. That really makes people change. They say, ‘Now I know someone [with HIV]’.

Telma Tondo
Italian Red Cross
“We actually felt the shaking of the ground and I didn’t think it was really such a big thing. But the next morning when I turned on the T V, I star ted to worry about these people.”

“It also destroys a lot of myths, such as you are looking sick, you cannot work, probably you are not in good health.

“They say, ‘I cannot believe you are living with HIV, you don’t look it’, which is good. It lowers the stigma.”

Non-discrimination can be a matter of life and death for people with HIV in Colombia, said Santiago. “We have internal conflict with armed groups. And people living with HIV have become a target for those armed groups. They receive pamphlets saying they could be killed. It has become a huge humanitarian problem.”

Mustafa Kazimi
Afghanistan Red Crescent
"When we do HIV presentations, lots of people say thank you, thank you. We didn’t know that sharing razors, using the same blade, can bring HIV. People are very happy to learn."

Attracting a more diverse group of volunteers into National Societies can help them reach new vulnerable groups, said Frederike de Graaf, a project manager at the Netherlands Red Cross. “We’re a multicultural society but in recent years society has been changing so fast that people don’t have time to adjust. That brings some tensions,” she said.

If the Netherlands Red Cross recruited volunteers from migrant groups, for example, they could help older migrants whose children no longer felt obliged to take care of them.

De Graaf, who is involved with a programme called ‘youth as agents of behavioural change’, used Youth on the move to develop a toolkit that can be used globally to help young people bring about change.

Amira Ben Ali
Tunisian Red Crescent
"At first I was just a volunteer but now it’s more. I can do a lot of things for the whole of humanity and make a lot of changes in the world. I won’t stop working in the Red Cross Red Crescent."

“We try to make people aware of their own prejudices – because I think it’s quite human to have prejudices. But you can give people the tools to realize that and change it into something positive. They will be able to spread the word to others.”

Serious trouble

Focusing on the Fundamental Principles of the Movement could help in situations of conflict, said Moshe Ohayon Danenberg, a volunteer coordinator, nurse and paramedic in an intensivecare ambulance for his National Society, the Magen David Adom in Israel.

“I feel that if we educate our youth according to the principles and values, it would probably influence the entire society, especially the armed conflict that we still have,” he said. “In that respect we have quite a lot to learn from the Palestine Red Crescent Society because they’re an old society and they have a lot of humanitarian relief programmes and they know how to use the principles and values.”

Ernest P. Nyame-Annan
Ghana Red Cross Society
"What you are doing today will have a result in the future. Is it going to affect society positively or is it going to af fect society negatively ? The future depends on what you are doing today."

Danenberg said the world is in a mess. “I think the Movement will grow because right now our world is in serious trouble. It doesn’t matter who caused all the troubles, but they are here now. Wedon’t have any other choice but to start addressing these troubles.”

For the 500 youth at the meeting, the hard work started once they returned to their countries and National Societies to tackle ‘today’s Solferinos’.

Many youth resolved to apply ideas gathered from other National Societies. Vidiana Xareal, from Timor Leste Red Cross Society, was clear on what she would do. “I want to help my friends as young people to engage and to give them information about the Red Cross, road safety, drugs, cigarettes and HIV,” she said.

Summing up the enthusiasm and energy of many participants, Nehanda Higinio, of Belize Red Cross Society, wrote in a blog at www.ourworld-yourmove. org, “This experience has opened my eyes to the power we have as young people to change the world. I feel encouraged and excited to go home and share with everyone all that I have learned.”

Vidiana Xareal
Timor Leste Red Cross Society
"In Solferino I have had discussions with young people from all over the world. I get informa tion from them. I will go home and discuss with youth the best method to implement these ideas in my country."

Ghana Red Cross Society volunteer Ernest P. Nyame-Annan said youth need the whole Movement to engage.

“It will depend on what we do today. If we keep on doing the same thing we’ll have the same results in the next 150 years. But if we realize that there are so many things we need to change and we start today, then the future will be brighter,” he said.

“It takes you and me to do it. Your head, your heart, your hand. Join them together to change the world. Wonderful.”

Rosemarie North
Rosemarie North is the editor of Red Cross Red Crescent magazine.

At Youth on the move, Seibou Traore from the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire introduces himself to youth colleagues from the Canadian Red Cross Society.




Youth make their move

Badges and pins from other National Societies are in hot demand at Youth on the move.




Participants have fun at a workshop.




Cooperation during an emergency response unit demonstration.




ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger chats to a participant.



A Memory of Solferino
By Henry Dunant

“When the sun came up on the 25th [of June 1859], it disclosed the most dreadful sights imaginable. Bodies of men and horses covered the battlefield; corpses were strewn over roads, ditches, ravines, thickets and fields; the approaches of Solferino were literally thick with dead.

Anyone crossing the vast theatre of the previous day’s fighting could see at every step, in the midst of chaotic disorder, despair unspeakable and misery of every kind.

I succeeded in getting together a certain number of women who helped as best they could. Food, and above all drink, had to be taken to men dying of hunger and thirst; then their wounds could be dressed and their bleeding, muddy, vermin covered bodies washed.

The women of Castiglione, seeing that I made no distinction between nationalities, followed my example. ‘Tutti fratelli’ [All are brothers], they repeated feelingly.

But why have I told of all these scenes of pain and distress?

It is a natural question. Perhaps I might answer it by another: Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?”

Read the book that changed history at





in action


Meals are another opportunity for exchange and discussion.




It would not be a youth camp without bunk beds.




A furry friend.




International Federation Secretary General Bekele Geleta makes his gesture for humanity.



Youth Declaration

In Geneva, youth presented the Youth Declaration agreed at the Youth on the move meeting in Solferino to political and humanitarian leaders. An extract:
Doing more, doing better, reaching further
We, the youth of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, united on the battlefields of Solferino, reaffirm the vision of 31-year-old Henry Dunant. His vision of humanity has changed the world and united us under common emblems of hope. One hundred and fifty years later, his fleeting idea has evolved into a global humanitarian movement made up of tens of millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers.

We have gathered to define our vision of humanity and to address the Solferinos of today. Poverty, conflict, violence, migration, disease, discrimination and climate change are some of the challenges that still cause suffering for hundreds of millions of people across the world.

Our generation faces unprecedented change. As Henry Dunant mobilized the people of Solferino to alleviate suffering, and then appealed to the world to provide humanitarian access, we have mobilized ourselves and now appeal to the leaders of the world to:

  • recognize youth as agents of change
  • encourage the unique abilities and skills of youth such as intercultural communication and innovative use of technology
  • include youth in decision-making and planning at all levels
  • push for youth to have a stronger role in programme development and implementation to empower their communities
  • increase focus on peer education as a primary method of prevention.


We speak with one voice and call on the international community to work with us to do more, do better and reach further.

Read the full declaration at or


Beacons of hope

Lighting a candle before the fiaccolata procession.




Villagers cheer on thousands of people following in Henry Dunant’s footsteps.




The crowd gathers before the procession.




The evening ends with spectacular fireworks.


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