> A British Red Cross humanitarian education initiative taking place in Wiltshire and Avon

The British Red Cross in partnership with law firm Allen & Overy have developed a Justice & Fairness educational resource on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), aimed at secondary school pupils across the UK.

The Swerve Project, running in Wiltshire and Avon, is “designed to help young people explore the themes of justice and fairness through learning about conflict and International Humanitarian Law.  The project allows the school students to discuss what they feel is fair and unfair, humane and inhumane treatment, and gives them the confidence to share what they have learnt with their fellow students”, said Rosie Walters, Swerve Project Manager.

In the past academic year, Nova Hreod School in Swindon was a recipient of the project’s work. With the support of the project staff and volunteers, a group of year eight pupils successfully created a radio programme on the topic of landmines, being aired on Swindon Community Radio 105.5, while another group discussed conflict related issues in an assembly to 230 of their peers. This coming academic year will see the project roll out to two schools in Bristol, a year ten class at the City Academy in St. George and the Grange School in Warmley will participate with a year twelve group.

The course has been divided into four modules, ‘Ambiguities of Identity in Conflict’, ‘Conflict Lines’, ‘War Limitations’ and a final module that will involve students staging mock war crimes tribunals. The complexity of identity of combatants and non combatants in conflict zones, and the resulting responsibilities and implications placed on military and non military actors are explored in the first module, incorporating photographs of individuals whose civilian identity appears questionable. Pupils are engaged through images of their peers from locations across the globe, brandishing weapons or standing behind what appears to be a perimeter fence of a refugee camp, revealing the difficulties of categorical identity in conflict zones

A highlighted statement in the IHL teaching resource is that “International Humanitarian Law serves to protect those who are not, or are no longer taking part in fighting and to restrict the means and methods of warfare”. The fundamental principles of the British Red Cross are evident in the work carried out in these schools, which can be seen through the teaching of their views mentioned above. Principles of humanity, voluntary service, unity and universality are what the Red Cross stand for, and the inclusion of such humanitarian principles in secondary school education is a healthy by product of the Swerve Project. “Part of what the Red Cross does is to raise awareness about International Humanitarian Law, which is now a part of the Citizenship syllabus.  We do a lot of work in schools, and provide a range of teaching resources to help teachers to make IHL and other humanitarian topics exciting and engaging for young people”, commented Walters. The humanitarian topics addressed in the Swerve Project are vital issues that should and continue to be the focus of secondary school pupils in schools in Britain and around the world. Exposure to the work of the Red Cross and the principles of humanity and universality at GCSE age are vital in providing pupils with an alternative perspective on the traditional areas of education, at a time when pupils become focused on Alevel choices, often dependent on future education and career ambitions.

Voluntary positions for the Swerve Project within the Avon office of the British Red Cross are now full and recruitment has concluded. Those who interested in volunteering in the future should check the Wiltshire, Gloucestershire & Avon section of www.redcross.org.uk, where opportunities to be involved in voluntary activities ranging from emergency response, first aid, tracing and messenger services, refugee services and humanitarian education are available.

By Mark Cockbill