Anticipation and curiosity filled the air as students from North High School, Oxford Academy, Dulles High School, British International School, and Bradley University arrived for the 2015 Youth Leadership Summit on Friday, June 12. They had been selected to travel to the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, DC because of their inspiring and successful work with the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Action Campaign. The teams knew that they would have to give presentations about their accomplishments on Saturday, but over the course of the weekend they would also make new friends, explore DC, visit the Newseum, meet Red Cross staff, and tour Red Cross buildings.
After arriving exhausted from the airport, the teams were ushered to the Board of Governors Hall in the American Red Cross Historic Headquarters. The emcees for the weekend then began a series of icebreakers to increase the energy in the room and encourage the teams to bond. After dinner, the teams split up to take selfies with monuments, go shopping, and find the best restaurants. Generally, Friday evening was a relaxed opportunity for the teams to bond and explore.
Saturday was when the Summit really got busy. The day began with an interactive presentation from Lieutenant Colonel John R. Cherry. He provided real-life examples of when IHL might be applied during an armed conflict. His presentation opened the attendees’ eyes to the complexities of war and the reasons why IHL may not be followed in all conflict situations.
Following his presentation, each of the five IHL Action Campaign teams gave a 15-20 minute, live-streamed presentation about their campaigns. This gave the other teams an opportunity to ask questions and share successful strategies that the teams could then take back to their home chapters to be implemented in future campaigns. For example, North High School’s presentation detailed their campaign’s action step in which participants could go beyond just learning the information and actually donate to the ICRC in order to help refugees by purchasing bracelets. By divulging their successful endeavors and contemplating any failures during these presentations, the teams are now better equipped to create even more successful campaigns next year. Plus, since the presentations were live-streamed and recorded, other IHL Action Campaign teams have the opportunity to learn from the Youth Leadership Summit, too. You can watch the presentations here.
Finally, after the presentations, the team members grabbed their belongings and headed to the Newseum. The Newseum contains several exhibits relating to IHL, refugees, and gender, like the powerful Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery and an exhibit called “Reporting Vietnam”. Through these and the other exhibits, the teams not only explored IHL and related topics, but also grasped the power of social media and obtained unique ideas on how to spread their campaigns via online platforms in the future.
After such an eventful Saturday, the teams were able to catch their breath on Sunday at reflection sessions and tours of the Hall of Service. The team members were put into small groups, where facilitators recorded their feedback about their experiences with the IHL Action Campaign over the past year. This gave the IHL team at National Headquarters suggestions on how to improve the program from those most directly involved in it.
In between focus groups, the students visited the Hall of Service in the American Red Cross Historic Headquarters, where they were able to take pictures standing on the balcony and at the podium in front of the room. This provided a relaxing end to an incredible weekend.
I got to talk to some of the participants about their experiences with the IHL Action Campaign and the Youth Leadership Summit. Many of them commented on their growth as leaders, coming out of their shells, their improved creativity, and the bond that developed between their group members through their participation in the IHL Action Campaign this year.
All in all, the 2015 Youth Leadership Summit was a great opportunity for the teams to share their successes and challenges with the IHL Action Campaign and to even get a head start on planning their activities for next year. In fact, next year’s campaign topics were announced at the Summit: torture and healthcare in danger.
– Hetal Shah, IHL Public Education Intern