Volunteer Spotlight: Laura Callahan, Disaster responder and Co-Leader for the International Humanitarian Law Youth Action Campaign

By: Jonathan Sandstrom, American Red Cross

The American Red Cross depends on dedicated volunteers to fulfill its mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. One of the ways volunteers can get involved with the Red Cross is through our work in the area of International Services and International Humanitarian Law. Meet Red Cross Volunteer Laura Callahan…

“Principles and passion were the reasons I sought out the Red Cross,” said 29-year-old

Laura Callahan

Laura Callahan, who began volunteering in January 2018. “For as much as I’ve lived, I feel my life is full. It’s wonderful to see how threads interweave within the Red Cross. Touching other people’s lives at their most vulnerable place is a much needed and appreciated skill.”

Since first joining Callahan has been active in a number of areas. In addition to working with the local Disaster Action Team (DAT), she’s been involved with mass care and sheltering, smoke alarm installs, and deployed to South Carolina, Nebraska and to Florida twice.

“I liked being on the front lines, helping people when they need it most. My passions aligned with my principles,” she said.

Callahan realized she wanted to also help in other ways. “Once I got my feet wet with Disaster Services, I started seeking out what other avenues might fan the flames of those passions and principles.”

She found more fuel in International Services, where she helped with the Restoring Family Links program. Her efforts include a recent re-connection between a brother and sister separated for 23 years.

Within International Services, Callahan and fellow volunteer, Raju Nepali have been assigned as co-leaders of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Youth Action

Campaign for the region. Nepali is a retired member of the Nepalese military, who relocated to the United States. While in uniform, he helped incorporate Humanitarian Law into his home country’s military.

The goal is to get the campaign up and running by the end of the year. Brookfield and Darien High Schools have Red Cross clubs and are signed up. Quinnipiac University and the United States Marine Cadets of West Haven are also on board. Further efforts are being made to include more collegiate and high school teams in the Connecticut/Rhode Island region.

What is IHL all about?

The IHL Youth Action Campaign informs youth and young adults (13-24) about the rules of armed conflict and empowers them to educate their community about IHL through peer-to-peer campaigns. Callahan said it’s a grass roots effort to energize youth into being IHL advocates.

The program is two-fold. The first purpose is to educate and promote awareness on the principles of International Humanitarian Law. The other is focused on youth leadership and empowerment. The campaigns are run solely by youth and allow for creativity, soft skills training, analytical research and professional development.

“We’re trying to introduce the public to the rules of war. The Red Cross began on the battlefield so a familiarity with these rules is worthwhile,” Callahan said.

​It’s important for youth to help spread the word about these rules. Many in this age group are already in uniform, fighting for their countries, with an average age of enlistment of 21 years old. Significant numbers are flooded with media and other forms of entertainment downplaying violence’s effect and ignoring the reality of armed conflict. People who understand these rules can encourage government officials to support IHL and limit armed conflict’s impact.

The International Committee of the Red Cross recognizes all parties to armed conflict and believes human dignity is the foundation of IHL. The bottom line is a need to inform as many as possible about these rules and provide an awareness of humanitarian challenges during armed conflicts.

The theme for this year’s campaign involves Autonomous Weapons – Autonomous Lethal Weapons. Various countries and companies are currently investing in and developing these weapons. The concern is these non-human intervention machines might cause more harm than good, lack moral and ethical standards and have the potential to be disproportionate in force – depending on the context, Callahan explained. “Machines don’t have the ability to detect and distinguish situational context like humans can.”

As Nelson Mandela once said, “The Geneva Conventions continue to remind us most forcefully of our common obligation to care for each other even, and particularly, in conditions fostering behavior to the contrary”.

For more information on International Humanitarian Law and how you can get involved, visit www.redcross.org.


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