“Tutti Fratelli” – how I found a community

Time flies, it really does. Last night I said goodbye to the country that’s been my home for the last year (the UK, that is – you should know by now) and moved the last of my stuff back to Belgium. It’s hard to believe that only two months ago I was in the midst of the Red Cross Red Crescent spirit, celebrating a 100 years of humanitarian action and remembering the battle of Solferino in Italy. I was fully living the international experience, connecting with young volunteers from all over the world and sharing my passion, opinion, knowledge and skills. While this one part of my life is coming to an end, I thought it would be nice to look back at this week in Italy which was definitely the highlight of my Red Cross year.

In 1859 during the battle of Solferino, Henry Dunant gave care to the wounded and dying soldiers, helped by local women volunteers. They didn’t take the side they were fighting for into account and treated everyone equally. This simple idea is the basis of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement we know to this day. During the week in Solferino the catch phrase “Tutti Fratelli” was heard all around, meaning “All Brothers”, added by a fast ‘and sisters of course’.

More than 300 young volunteers from over 120 national societies took part in five days of workshops, events, excursions, international fairs, dance parties and karaoke (last but definitely not least). On the last day we were joined by thousands of other Red Cross volunteers from all over the world. Together we would walk in the footsteps of Henry Dunant, alongside the battlefields of Solferino and we would light of the night sky by carrying thousands of torches. This walk is called the fioccalata.

I was lucky enough to be able to represent the Belgian Red Cross during this week, even though I sometimes felt more like a representative for the British Red Cross. In the end it really didn’t matter where we came from, as we were all facing the same direction. We worked together concerning topics like migration, climate change, youth leadership and the future of the movement. Climate change has been a priority of mine for quite a while now and it was nice to open up the discussion around this topic in the Red Cross. I heard stories of volunteers currently being affected by the consequences of global warming in their home countries. For Western countries climate change still feel like something that doesn’t impact us directly but we have to remember that we’re not alone on this world. Our actions have ripple effect on the whole planet. It was great to see people passionate about the topic, standing up and demanding action instead of sole reaction. A group of volunteers strived to reduce the waste we produced while in the camp, by urging everyone to avoid single use plastic during the meals. I believe that we as a Red Cross Red Crescent movement still have a long way to go and need to take responsibility for our own actions instead of only focusing on how we react to disaster when it strikes. I also believe the first seeds have been planted and can’t wait to see what grows out of it.

While I could go on and on about the specific topics we worked on, I want to focus on a broader theme. The Italian Red Cross used this week to bring hundreds of volunteers together from hundreds of countries. The only thing we all had in common? The Red Cross Red Crescent principles. The urge to help others and do the right thing. Or as the British Red Cross puts it so nicely: ‘refusing to ignore people in crisis’ and ‘the power of kindness’. It didn’t matter which background we were from, which religion we believed in, what we looked like and which language we spoke. Somehow there was an immediate sense of community, of belonging. This is what the Red Cross has done for me over and over again this year. It has given me the experience that I’m part of a bigger purpose and it has given me a family to identify with. Spending seven days together doesn’t seem like a long time but after two months it’s still a constant memory. When a disaster strikes in a country, I don’t just see a country anymore. I see the person I met in Solferino. This experience has given a lot of faces to places and issues that were anonymous to me before.

I wonder, if everyone would be able to put a name and face on the disastrous consequences of climate change, how fast would we change? If we all knew someone who was discriminated against based on gender, age or country of origin, how strong would we make our voice? If we heard the personal stories of someone being on the run, how hard would we fight against the ignorance and stigma still present around refugees and migration?

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