By Dr Massimo Barra, Vice President of the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent
The expression ‘Red Cross Red Crescent Youth’ has always had two correlated significance: what youngsters can do for the Movement on one hand and what the Movement can do for youngsters on the other.
In the ideal National Society this two-way relationship should always receive the same attention. It was not the case when I joined the Italian Red Cross Youth: the Pionieri component was a sort of Leviathan which counted some 4 million members in all the schools of the country.
Membership was practically compulsory and the small individual fee paid for the membership card and badge represented a significant amount of money that the National Society used for funding services for pupils in need of assistance, school surgeries, summer holidays for students and first aid training.
Groups of Red Cross youngsters have also been set up outside the school system in some of the local branches; first called ‘Pioneers of Brotherhood’, they have simply become known as ‘Red Cross Pioneers’.
At the beginning, this component was managed by the National Society, with almost no autonomy. Eventually we decided to raise our voice calling for adequate representation and decision-making power within the organization. Similar resolutions were taken in other National Societies as well.
Everything is different now, especially in terms of communication. International camps represented the only chance of exchanging views among Youth members from different countries, but the debates we had at camps showed a common thread regardless of National Society.
I first took part in an international camp in Varna, Bulgaria, in 1965. Having not ventured far from home, this was one of the defining moments of my youth and led to increased engagement with the Movement.
In 1973, when I became Chairman of the Youth Commission – then called the Youth Advisory Committee – I promoted some initiatives aimed at giving youth a voice, both at regional and global level, conceiving them as a sort of participation tool devoted to youngsters. This engagement contributed to the empowerment of youth within the Movement: currently, the Chairman of the Youth Commission is an ex-officio member of the Governing Board of the IFRC and, in many National Societies, youth representatives are part of the decision-making processes.
Now, we may say that the enthusiastic – even utopian – engagement of young members has replaced paternalism with peer-education. The process is still ongoing, often driven by technologies with which youngsters seem to be much more familiar than their older peers. Considering that knowledge is power, we may also say that the power of youth has definitely increased, even in a Movement linked to its traditions and not very inclined to change.
Almost 50 years after my first youth camp, I still believe that the Movement’s engagement with our young members must be increased, their voices must be heard. International camps have contributed to change in the lives of many youngsters, as Varna did with mine, and will change many more lives in the future.
Investing in Youth by disseminating the everlasting Henry Dunant’s creed, our Fundamental Principles and the International Humanitarian Law is the best way to contribute to a sustainable peaceful global environment.
Massimo Barra is one of the first medical doctors in Italy to take care of drug users. A Red Cross volunteer since the age of 8, Massimo Barra has been the Chairman of the Italian Red Cross Youth for eight years. In December 2005, he was elected National President of the Italian Red Cross. In Geneva at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Massimo Barra has been President of the Youth Commission from 1974 to 1982, President of the Development Commission in the periods 1982 to 1990 and 2005 to 2008, and finally Vice-President from 2004 to 2005. In November 2007 he has been elected Vice President of the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.