09 Jul

Living the dream of Henry

World Village Festival

Siaka (the second from the left) participating in the World Village Festival.

Siaka Dippa moved to Finland a few years ago. New country and culture didn’t feel that strange after he joined the Finnish Red Cross. As a former volunteer of The Gambia Red Cross, he has been happy to see that there are many similarities between different Red Cross societies.

I was a volunteer in The Gambia Red Cross Society. It started as a branch of the British Red Cross Society in 1948, and became an independent national society in 1966.

Unlike the Finnish Red Cross, more than 80% of the volunteers are young people aged between 15 and 30, and this cohort of people are the backbone of The Gambia Red Cross. Like other members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, The Gambia Red Cross places great emphasis on supporting activities relevant to young people as they are 60% of The Gambia’s population.

Many people in The Gambia become Red Cross volunteer when they start primary school, usually at the age of six or seven. However, my case was different as my journey to the Red Cross started late. It was in my eleventh grade when I got invited to join one of the most active Red Cross links in The Gambia-Bundung Home Link with over 100 other very active and dedicated volunteers.  A home link in The Gambia is what is referred to as a branch in the Finnish Red Cross. I remember the first activity I took part in was a National Youth Drama competition organised by Youth In Development and Change (YIDAC) and guess what, we won!

Gambia RC Training

This marks the beginning of a journey serving humanity through the Red Cross and I cherished every single moment, from an international youth camp commonly known as Bantaba to the polio vaccination and Malaria campaigns, reproductive health, disaster preparedness and response, leadership training and first aid camps among others.

I joined the Red Cross because I wanted to serve humanity. I felt that there is someone out there who might be vulnerable or might need help and by volunteering in the Red Cross, I could change the person’s life. In addition I want to live the dream of Henry Dunant who called for the creation of an aid organisation, not only for the wounded in war, but to aid in all manner of disasters needing an organised response.

For many like me, Gambia Red Cross serves as another home, where skills and hidden talents are developed. They made us to believe in ourselves.

Jukka Louma

Photo Jukka Louma

Moving to a new country. I had no idea about its people, culture, weather or work. I had mix feelings. I was happy because I was going to study but leaving behind family, friends, work and all the different voluntary activities was the saddest and the most difficult moment.

The confusion didn’t last long after arriving in Finland as I found a new home and a new family, the Finnish Red Cross. Just with a simple click of a computer I got an information package of all the activities within Helsinki and Uusimaa district, especially those that are conducted in English.  As if that is insufficient, I was invited to an introductory course about the Finnish Red Cross. I never hesitated to sign up because I was hungry to know all the bits and pieces of the national society and how I could get involved.

One of the clubs that I was interested to join right after the introductory course was Betania International Club which is open for everyone and provides a meeting place for people from various backgrounds. I started to go to Betania and was lucky to meet different people. With some of them I’m still in contact.

Five months after my arrival, an application to the Youth delegate training course was announced and I applied, luckily I was selected. This course prepared me to work as youth delegate for the International Red Cross Movement through the Finnish Red Cross. Shortly after our training together with other participants, we established an international youth club (FRC International Youth Club), a group for young people between 15 and 28. I continue to volunteer in different activities including visits to schools, campaigns and festivals among them Hunger Day Campaign, World Village Festival and Lupa Välittää.

Siaka received the Youth Volunteer of the Year award from the Helsinki and Uusimaa district this May. Photo Tuula Korhonen

If you ask me today, I will say Finnish Red Cross solved the puzzle! I haven’t done much because of the language barrier, but I am happy I could serve humanity. I am even happier of the fact that my humble efforts can be linked to those countless others who make a difference to the world.

Having experience both national societies, I have come to realise that each national society design their activities based on the need of the people. Therefore I would say there are a lot more similarities than differences as all Red Cross societies in the world work in accordance with the seven principles of the movement.

No one is too poor to volunteer and you don’t have to wait until you retire. The experiences you gain while volunteering can never be learned anywhere else. There is a lot more to be done.

Siaka K. Dibba

28 May

“The best thing has been the people”

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Finnish Red Cross arranges every year a basic training for youth delegates. This year the training brought together 30 young people from Kenya, Argentina, Estonia, Jordan, El Salvador and from all around Finland.

For Cecilia Pensar participating in the youth delegate training was a logical step to take.

– I want to go abroad and work in another country in the future. In the training we’ve done a lot of different kinds of group works which have been really useful. First of all I’ve learned what I could do as a facilitator. I didn’t realise before, how important it is for a youth delegate to know how to arrange activities like plays and presentations. Besides that, it’s been beneficial to get to know more about myself. The group works that we’ve been doing here have given an insight on how I might react in different and new situations.

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– Sauna! First I thought it was weird, like who really enjoys it. But the part when you go swimming and feel the blood running in your veins because of the change of the temperature is really relaxing, Patrick Kibe laughs when he’s been asked to describe the experience of being in Finland for the first time.

Kibe has been a volunteer in the Kenya Red Cross for seven years. He’s especially interested in the youth involvement and youth engagement and wanted to learn about youth activities in the Finnish Red Cross.

– I feel like I fit in here among these people. I’ve had amazing conversations with them and it’s been great to meet people who share the same ideas.

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– I came here because I want to have an opportunity to work abroad and I wanted to learn new things about the Red Cross. It’s been great to meet people who are active in so many ways. The training has also inspired me to do more voluntary work in the Red Cross’ domestic activities, Katharina Marbach says.

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Jenniffer Aguilar has been working in the Salvadorian Red Cross for almost two years.

– Salvadorian Red Cross has the same kind of challenges that Finnish Red Cross has. It has been great to talk about them and get new ideas to develop our activities in El Salvador. I also have got more motivation to help people by doing voluntary work, she tells.

It is the first time for Aguilar to be in Europe and Finland. She’s grateful that she had the possibility to participate in the training.

– It is so different in here compared to my home country where safety is for example a big issue. The nature, food and people have been amazing. I’ve enjoyed everything about the trip.

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– Best thing about the course has been the people in here. I’ve enjoyed hearing about their experiences and hopes. While working as a Red Cross youth delegate I could make a change in a sustainable way, Sara Mähönen tells.

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Jutta Linna has been a volunteer in the Finnish Red Cross for around one and half years. She suggests every young person to learn about the domestic activities of Red Cross before participating the youth delegate training.

– I came here to obviously learn more, but also to figure out if I’m capable of working abroad. I know, I wouldn’t be ready to go everywhere, but I’d like to participate in development projects and plan activities for young people in different countries. It’s been a really intensive course and I think participating in it is a good way to see if you’re ready to go abroad on a mission, Linna says.

Paula Pihlava

20 Jan

I’m a youth delegate in Côte d’Ivoire

Kaisa Loikkanen is interviewed here regarding her position as a youth delegate in Western Africa. Also scroll further down to check out the nice video she made from her home. Got interested in this kind of a job? The application time for the next Red Cross Youth delegate course is open now!

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Kaisa in Kiendiwalogo, Côte D’Ivoire Photo: Vincent Kanga

1. Hi Kaisa, where are you now and what are you doing there?

I am a Finnish Red Cross Youth delegate in Cote d’Ivoire, based in Abidjan. Finnish Red Cross is supporting a community based health and first aid project in Cote d’Ivoire and most of my work concentrates in that project. My tasks vary a lot. They include supporting planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting about how the project progresses and contributes to the Red Cross of Cote d’Ivoire. Especially due to the current ebola preparedness operations that are going on. Finnish Red Cross organizes meetings and participates in different workshops and trainings. Being the only Finnish Red Cross delegate in the country has increased in the scope of my work; there are no typical working days. I’m based in Abidjan but I spend about one fourth of my time in the field; Basically I participate in the monitoring visits, trainings and evaluations.

2. What made you apply for the Youth delegate course in the first place?

I had been a volunteer in the Red Cross and a member of the Helsinki Uudenmaa region’s youth council for a while when I applied for the youth delegate training. I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the work that the Finnish Red Cross does oversees. I was also keen in meeting Red Cross volunteers from all over the world. In my course we had participants from Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Estonia and Malawi.

3. Alright Kaisa, now that you have accomplished the course, where has it taken you and what kind of future plans do you have?

After the course in autumn 2013, the Finnish Red Cross was looking for a youth delegate to work in IFRC’s (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societes) the Asia Pacific zone office for one and a half months. The mission was starting already in a few weeks and the application process was urgent. I happened to be available and decided to send in an application and got the post. My task was to assist in the Global Review on volunteering: I interviewed Asian national societies and transcribed the interviews. I also got to travel to Myanmar to write a Volunteer investment and Value audit case study on their relief project. During that mission I realized that this is what I want to do: I want to work for the Red Cross movement. I decided that I will apply for the next open youth delegate post, where ever it may be. The next post happened to be in Cote d’Ivoire, so here I am. After this post, again, I hope to continue working in the Red Cross movement.

4. What other factors did the course bring to your life?

We did a lot of team building and group work exercises in the youth delegate course. Many of them had some kind of self-reflection included in the exercises: we pondered what kind of a role does one take in a team and how we react to conflicts or other difficult situations. I also learned a lot about my self during the course; especially my strengths and weaknesses. These are super important viewpoints when working with people from different cultural backgrounds.

5. And one last question Kaisa, how have you changed as a person during the last year?

The mission in Côte d’Ivoire has given me so much perspective; many of the things you take granted in Finland are luxury here.

Thanks Kaisa, be safe and hope you have a succesfull mission!

Editor in chief,
Altti