“I started as a volunteer for the Red Cross youth in 1969”, remembers Oscar Zuluaga who first encountered the Red Cross in his hometown Cali in Colombia.
“We did first aid courses and community work in poor quarters. While interacting with children and young people, working together in drug and violence prevention I have learned a lot about leadership, working in a team, solidarity, generosity and training.”
Voluntary action like this has been at the heart of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement right from its beginnings. On the battlefield of Solferino, Henry Dunant carried out a task that nowadays would be known as volunteer management: he recruited people from a local community to meet local needs.
Nowadays, of course, the work of the Red Cross Red Crescent has moved beyond battlefields, but the principle that there is a value in mobilizing unpaid workers to carry out relevant tasks in the community has remained central to the organization’s thinking and planning.
“The most important thing I have discovered is, that people respect and love the Red Cross Red Crescent, because they believe it is an organisation that cares about the people who suffer and is always closer to them”, says Oscar Zuluaga who is still with the movement. “In Colombia, the Red Cross youth is considered to be a school of good citizenship. This is the “added value” which is provided to the society by volunteering.”
As in many other countries around the globe, the Red Cross Red Crescent idea is still very attractive to people of all ages in Colombia. “In the late 1970s we had around 600 volunteers in 23 cities, in 1985 more than 8,000 young people in 120 cities were with the Red Cross youth. Today about 45,000 volunteers are engaged.”
Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers are deeply rooted in their respective communities, they are the first on the scene in emergencies. In donating their time and skills to people who need their help, volunteers still share the same passion which led Henry Dunant 150 years ago in Solferino. One of the aims of the RCRC movement for the future is to engage senior citizens over 60 years old and retirees as volunteers.
Oscar Zuluaga has been part of the evolution of youth and volunteers in the Red Cross Red Crescent movement during four decades. “Volunteering is a set of mind which is independent from age. The future for RCRC volunteers is bright, considering our history, services and principles which lead us the way to help people acting with love, solidarity and compassion.”
Learn more about volunteering with the Irish Red Cross on www.redcross.ie/get-involved