Tag Archives: Youth

The Cost of War

Red Cross teen volunteers spread awareness about the impact of armed conflict

By Marcia Antipa

“It’s just better for humanity that everyone knows about it.”

IHL In the Bay, a Youth Action Campaign team from the East Bay.

Bay Area teen Janaki Rakesh is talking about International Humanitarian Law (IHL), a set of rules developed under the Geneva Conventions designed to limit the impacts of armed conflict.

Rakesh and 40 other students in the Northern California Coastal Region are studying IHL through the Red Cross Youth Action Campaign (YAC).   

Kimberly Cui says she signed up for YAC because  “I just wanted to explore more about what other people in the world were facing.”

In past years, the campaign has focused on the effects of war on healthcare workers and on education. This year’s theme is cultural property.

“The destruction of cultural property’s permanent, so when it’s damaged or when it’s destroyed it has a direct impact on that particular community,” says Sarina Vij, Coordinator for the Bay Area YAC.

Vij says cultural property “is something that is of great importance to a particular community. It could be a statue; it could be a monument. “

For example, she cites the Taliban’s destruction in 2001 of two giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan that were 1600 years old.  

Some teens are surprised to learn that the Red Cross is involved in International Humanitarian Law.

Harshita Gabri says, “Initially when I heard about Red Cross I thought of it as an organization that was in charge of blood donations.”

Priyanka Supraja Balaji

“Before I knew anything about the details about Red Cross, I always thought of it as an organization that provides humanitarian aid,” says Priyanka Supraja Balaji. “I wanted to be a part of spreading that mission and really being one of the people who is helping others.”

And Rubikka Satchidanantham says, “I thought this campaign was the perfect opportunity. Not only am I able to learn more about IHL, but I’m also able to educate others.”

Janaki Rakesh said she is passionate about teaching others about IHL, because she has followed the story of Malala Yousafzai. Malala is an outspoken advocate for girls’ education who survived being shot by the Taliban, and won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.

“I read all of Malala’s books. She’s a girl from Pakistan. Her life was destroyed by war.”

The YAC teams spread awareness about IHL through Instagram posts and Zoom game nights, where participants answer questions about war and cultural property.

Sreekrishna Gelle posted on the group’s Instagram feed about a firebombing during World War Two, “where American and British bombers basically flattened the entire city of Dresden in Germany which was a center of cultural, architectural and artistic history.”

 “I have never seen a more creative group of individuals,” says Sarina Vij. “They are very good at coming up with different ways to navigate and problem-solve. “

One team held an online scavenger hunt, sharing food, clothing, and souvenirs from other countries. Victoria Liu says that made her appreciate her own Chinese heritage – and what cultural property means to others. “It represents a lot about people and if you destroy these properties, you’re destroying peoples’ identities.”

And the work doesn’t end when the games do. “We used feedback forms and heard back from people that they want to make it more engaging,” says Shivani Ravindra. “So we’re working on improving those for the next event.”

YAC presentations are all virtual for now,  but team member Tejasvini Ramesh says that is their secret weapon.

“We’re able to spread awareness about it a lot quicker than we would through in-person events because with the power of social media we can reach lots of people from different parts of the world.”

Beyond teaching their classmates about IHL, several teens say they find the concepts comforting.

“During war, we think it’s all chaotic,” says Charisse Zou, “but I found it really fascinating how there were actually laws to protect the people and cultural property.”

“It gives me a really safe feeling,” says  Priyanka Supraja Balaji. “Things that have such a personal attachment to you like a place of worship or anything like that won’t get targeted.”

Anyone can learn about IHL and take part in the teams’ online events.  Just visit:

https://ihlinthebay.wixsite.com/ihlinthebay

https://www.redcross.org/humanityinwar/international-humanitarian-law-youth-action-campaign.html

Two Bartons: Red Cross founder inspired young relative

Many Red Cross volunteers and employees say they are inspired by the values and actions of founder Clara Barton, born 200 years ago and known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” after she provided medical services to soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War.

Athena Barton, in her fourth year as a Red Cross volunteer in Northern California’s San Mateo County, says she has an additional reason to be inspired by Clara Barton: they are related. Athena Barton’s great-great grandfather was Clara Barton’s cousin, making Athena a first cousin four times removed.

Left: Athena Barton, shown here in her high school senior portrait, is a first cousin four generations removed from Red Cross founder Clara Barton. Courtesy of Athena Barton.
Right: Oil painting of Red Cross founder Clara Barton by Mathilde M. Leisenring, painted in 1937. Courtesy of American Red Cross Photo Library.

Athena Barton was a sophomore at Burlingame High School in 2018 when a flyer asking for volunteers to work in San Mateo County’s Red Cross youth program caught her eye. The county has had youth programs for more than 30 years, working with high school Red Cross clubs in a wide range of Red Cross activities.

“I remembered my dad used to talk about Clara Barton,” the San Bruno resident said, including the fact that he volunteered for the Red Cross in high school.

“My dad was always interested in Clara and her life and legacy,” Athena Barton said, and “I was looking for volunteer opportunities. “

After taking some basic training from San Mateo County’s volunteer youth advisors, Betty Fleming and Mary Lee, Athena Barton jumped right in. She helped at a food bank, raised money for campaigns to end rubella and measles, helped put together disaster kits at the Red Cross offices, worked at disaster preparation events, blood drives and smoke alarm installation events, “helping with whatever I could,” Athena Barton said.

Youth advisor Mary Lee said Athena Barton was “very conscientious and learned quickly” and was “very good at teaching young children about disaster preparedness.”

Athena Barton said she loves working with kids. “Seeing all their faces light up, that made me happy,” she said. She also loves teaching academics to younger students by tutoring them in math and English.

Clara Barton also loved teaching, beginning her professional career as a teacher at a time when almost all teachers were men. She established the first free public school in New Jersey in 1853.

For Athena Barton, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of Red Cross volunteer opportunities. But even after graduating from high school in 2021, Athena Barton continued to be interested in giving time to the Red Cross. That’s when she found out about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Services programs. Athena Barton joined a team headed by Chandni Khetrapal and Nikki Rowe that works to engage and motivate new and existing volunteers in those two Red Cross fields.

“From the very first day, (Athena) was eager to learn and know more about the ways she can support,” Chandni Khetrapal said. “She is very enthusiastic and always willing to help.”

Athena Barton said she is especially happy to work in these two areas of the Red Cross because these activities were especially important to Clara Barton.

During the Civil War Clara Clara Barton provided clothing, food and other supplies to sick and wounded soldiers on behalf of several then-existing organizations, and then pressed government officials to give her passes to field hospitals and battle scenes, where she volunteered her nursing skills. After learning about the International Red Cross in 1869, Clara Barton volunteered in the battle zone during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. She went on to found the American Red Cross in 1881, when she was 59.

Today, Service to the Armed Forces helps both active duty soldiers and veterans, their families and caregivers prepare for, manage and respond to the challenges of service.

While the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was mostly devoted to providing humanitarian aid on the field of battle, Clara Barton pressed the ICRC to adopt an amendment in 1864 to provide aid to those affected by natural disasters.

Today, the American Red Cross International Services workers help the International Committee of the Red Cross respond to disasters and prepare communities to respond to crisis around the world. Programs include The Measles and Rubella Initiative working to eliminate measles and rubella, and “Restoring Family Links,” reconnecting those separated by natural disasters, conflict or forced migration.

Athena Barton says she has learned a lot from her Red Cross work. “I was very shy,” Athena Barton says, and could have a hard time connecting with her peers, but through her Red Cross work has learned “not to be as nervous when I’m talking to people.”

Those character traits would be very recognizable to Clara Barton.

Famed photographer Matthew Brady took this portrait of Red Cross founder Clara Barton circa 1865. Courtesy of American Red Cross Photo Library.

Clara Barton (whose full name was Clarissa Harlowe Barton) was herself shy and somewhat socially awkward as a child, according to her 1907 autobiography, “The Story of My Childhood.”

 “In the earliest years of my life, I remember nothing but fear,” Clara Barton wrote in the book.

As the youngest of five children, a dozen years removed from her next oldest sibling, Clara Barton was coddled but also taught everything from reading to mathematics and horseback riding by her older brothers and sisters. “I have no knowledge of ever learning to read,” she wrote, “or of a time I did not do my own story reading.” Her brother had her riding bareback on a barely-broken horse at age five, and her father loved to tell her stories of his years of military service.

But she had a lisp and “I was what is known as a bashful child, timid in the presence of other persons,” Clara Barton wrote. “To this day, I would rather stand behind the lines of artillery at Antietam, or cross the pontoon bridge under fire at Fredericksburg, than to be expected to preside at a public meeting.”

That didn’t keep her from leading the Red Cross for 23 years, until she was in her 80s.

To learn more about Clara Barton, go to https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/clara-barton.html .

To learn more about volunteering for the Red Cross go to https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html .

Find Clara Barton’s autobiography at https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Story_of_My_Childhood/wqcCAAAAYAAJ?hl=en .

Leadership Development Center: Through the decades

Historic Red Cross youth conference pivots to create increased access for students

Youth development conference screenshot. Photo courtesy of LDC 2021.

This year, the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region hosted a four-day virtual youth development conference from June 21-24, attended by more than 225 student delegates and 20 youth staff. While this year’s Leadership Development Center (LDC) was modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it still provided an opportunity for youth ages 13-18 to develop and cultivate core leadership skills such as teamwork, public speaking and diversity awareness through virtual presentations, workshops and small group discussions. 

The staff prepared for seven months to plan the curriculum and activities for the conference, all from scratch. Camp directors Emily Elmore and Gaby Azcarate led the process, and while the directors and youth staff were afraid that some of the camaraderie that delegates get in their small groups would be lost in this modified format, they worked hard to make sure that planned activities included opportunities for delegates to get to know each other and work as a team, even in a virtual environment. 

“A positive note on the virtual conference is that it opened the door to have students attend who otherwise may not have been able to spend a full week with us in person,” said Allie Parker, Red Cross Volunteer and Youth Services Manager. “We were also able to invite more guest speakers to join us who may have had more difficulties attending an event in person.”  

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Four generations strong… so far

Gary Zellerbach during the 2019 Sound the Alarm campaign.

Volunteering with the American Red Cross takes many forms. For some, volunteering means active deployment into the heart of disaster responses, where people are at their most vulnerable. Others find meaning and purpose behind the scenes, coordinating their peers from a virtual office. And then there is a family tradition, where roles pass down from one generation to the next. Gary Zellerbach is part of such a legacy.

Gary Zellerbach’s grandmother, Doris Zellerbach, served as a Donut Dolly in WWII, volunteering and working with the Red Cross her entire life. She specifically invested time and energy into youth services. Upon passing, she not only left an endowment to the Red Cross, but her son (and Gary’s father), Stephen Zellerbach, picked up the mantle in youth services. Gary retired around the same time his father died in 2011, and he readied himself for service.

“I had met Harold Brooks [the regional Chief Executive Officer for the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter from 1997-2013] at events over the years,” says Gary. So, Gary called him and asked, “Harold, are you ready for the next generation?” Harold introduced Gary to the then head of development, Michael Lawrence, who – naturally – recommended that Gary join the Youth Services Committee.

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Volunteer LouAnne Williams keeps it simple in order to serve hundreds

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(l to r) Eva Marquez, Keith Hoffman, LouAnne Williams, and Jeff Airth. Photography: Kane Wong | American Red Cross
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LouAnne Williams keeps it simple. On October 31, 2013, she began to look for ways to give back to her community. She tried to register with a local hospital but felt that they had an overwhelming number of rules and regulations.  Craving something simpler and more direct, she sought counsel from friends and family. Her son-in-law suggested she try the Red Cross, so LouAnne walked into the front door of the Red Cross, literally across the street from the hospital. And she has never looked back.

LouAnne began her journey as a preparedness instructor and now leads her peers in multiple capacities. Last year, she received the San Mateo County Volunteer of the Year Award, something that came as no surprise to her colleagues.

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11-year-old who alerted her family to a fire is honored as Red Cross hero

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Berlin Gomez-Muniz, 11, received a Red Cross “Hero” medal for alerting her family to a Dec. 19 fire in San Jose. Her mother, Frankie, and Silicon Valley Red Cross chapter board chair Terry Unter look on. Photo: Mark Butler/American Red Cross

Berlin Gomez-Muniz stood quietly as a 3-inch diameter “Hero” medal was draped around her neck at the Jan. 16 Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross board meeting, but when it was the most important, the 11-year-old says, she yelled so loud her throat hurt after she alerted her extended family to a fire just before Christmas. Read more

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