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!
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.
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.
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