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A Call to Service

The volunteers of the Lebanese Red Cross Club at AUB are committed to enhancing the quality of life for the elderly, the visually impaired, and the underprivileged children of Lebanon. MainGate discovers that community outreach is a compassionate commitment for these students.

One student club at AUB is not all that easy to join. A student cannot simply sign up and become a full-fledged member of the AUB Lebanese Red Cross Club (LRCC) overnight. The activities of this community service club, which are centered on projects for the underprivileged—the poor, the orphaned, the elderly, and the mentally and physically challenged—and which also include holding blood donation campaigns and fund-raising drives, demand dedication, responsibility, energy, and loyal commitment.
First, a prospective member must fill out a comprehensive application form that asks for information on the candidate’s commitment, neutrality, and overall personality traits. Promising applicants are then interviewed by members of the club’s cabinet. All members must refrain from active political involvement and embrace the seven principles of the International Red Cross: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality.
After the interview, a set of new challenges faces the candidates. They are placed on probation for ten months—one entire academic year—during which time they must attend one of two identical meetings each week, at which service projects for the semester are discussed. Although the probationary members do not have the right to vote on projects, they are required to participate actively in an average number of club projects in order to be considered for full membership.
In addition to working on the projects, each new member must also donate at least one hour a week to AUB’s Room for the Visually Challenged, reading to visually impaired students and helping them with computers, Braille readers, and other equipment. If a probationary member fails to participate in the average number of ongoing projects, she or he is put on special probation. A member who receives two of these probations is dropped from the club. “Even with these tough conditions,” said one cabinet member, “we are the largest club in AUB.”
Full-fledged members who vote for a particular project in the general assemblies at the beginning of each semester are expected to work on that project. Members usually visit the elderly in their homes. They also sometimes bring entertainment and gifts directly to the children in orphanages, and the Lebanese Red Cross Club frequently takes them on tours of Beirut (the airport and fast food restaurants are favorites) or invites them to visit the campus. Red Cross youth clubs throughout Lebanon participate in the annual Child Festival, where each club mounts a stand to educate and entertain the many children who attend each year. This spring the AUB stand featured huge maps of the earth’s continents. Hundreds of children joined in the games, like throwing rings over mock elephant tusks.
The club’s project sub-committees plan, prepare, and organize many weeks in advance of each event, developing intricate skills of organization and management and showing a persistent dedication and willingness to learn. “The probationary period is not easy,” said Lara Suleiman, sophomore biology major. “You have to meet a lot of requirements and you have to get into a lot of projects and work on many subcommittees.” But there is much compensation, according to Suleiman: “It’s nice to help people…and the spirit of working together, the team work, is great.” This year Suleiman hosted Ramadan iftars for children and the elderly, sold UNICEF greeting cards during the holiday season, helped at the annual Child Festival stand, and assisted in the club’s spring semester blood donation drive.
Training sessions, offered by professionals from the Lebanese Red Cross headquarters on Rue Spears, are usually held before each project commences. During the mid-semester break, members undergo a two-day training program in Kinshara, near Bikfaya, where they attend lectures and workshops on group dynamics, program and planning design, the psychological and social development of the child, how to prepare plays and games for children, and how to deal with the elderly. The rigors of the probationary period may seem daunting, but the new members learn to balance their study time with their volunteer activities and end up enjoying themselves.
The high point of the Kinshara training session is the experience of community living. In a house rented especially for the two-day program, the members become a virtual family unit, sharing their interests and concerns, as well as the chores of housekeeping and cooking. Ralph El Hage, vice president of the club, reported, “It breaks the set habits of AUB students. We cook, we clean, we do essentially everything together.” As Majd Khalaf, the club treasurer, put it: “We all become very close.” As they get to know each other better, the student volunteers relish living and working together as friends.
Members of the Lebanese Red Cross Club are quick to point out the
differences between their club and the many other AUB clubs and societies. Despite their large number and rigorous membership requirements, members say they have a special esprit de corps. Something about a shared will to volunteer, to devote time to helping others, brings the
students together. Noura Tchelebi, a psychology major and the most active club member, said, “In the club you find people who care about the same things you do. And these people are not just talking, they are doing.” Tchelebi not only participates in the club’s projects, but also
volunteers to visit prison inmates with the Lebanese Red Cross.
Club members represent a number of different nationalities on campus—Lebanese, Americans, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Syrians, among others. Amir Bitar, club secretary and a Syrian, noted how warmly he had been received into the club. The membership also includes a variety of academic majors. Nabil Nehmeh, the club president, pointed out that many distinguished members of other clubs join the Lebanese Red Cross Club. The presidents of both the English Student Society and the Syrian Cultural Club, for instance, are currently members of the LRCC.

El Hage praised the explicitly structured organization of the club. Bylaws are strictly followed. Commitment and discipline are paramount. While engaged in club projects, members wear the club uniform: probationary members wear white T-shirts and blue jeans with a white dossard adorned by a large red cross, and white or brown shoes with white socks; regular members wear blue overalls, a Red Cross badge, a white shirt, and black shoes with white socks. Earrings, long fingernails, and make-up are taboo. In keeping with the International Red Cross principle of neutrality, overt religious symbols such as crosses and Korans may not be displayed, but wearing the hijab is allowed. Lara Suleiman said that personally she doesn’t like wearing uniforms and hates having to tie up her abundant curly hair just to look neat, but she understands the need for the neutrality provided by the uniforms. Children enjoying a fall semester Ramadan iftar hosted by uniformed club members were puzzled: “Why are you fasting? If you’re wearing a big red cross, aren’t you a Christian?” they asked.

The benefits of being a Lebanese Red Cross Club volunteer are many, according to El Hage. The members “learn to be committed and responsible. They learn to come on time, to work as a team, to develop leadership skills.” Members also acquire many specific practical skills. Before the blood donation projects, for example, students practice such basics as measuring hemoglobin, recording body temperature and weight, and
caring for donors after they give blood. “Basically,” continued El Hage, “we try to make our work as professional as possible. We plan, we organize, we direct before we go through with the project. Then we write it up. It’s important to have reports.” Reports are a significant part of the learning process—the files in the club’s West Hall office are full of them, glossy and spiral-bound.
AUB has long had historic ties with the American and International Red Cross. During World War I, when the University was still known as the Syrian Protestant College, its teams served in Turkey, Jerusalem, and Beirut at the request of American Red Cross chapters. The national Lebanese Red Cross was recognized in 1945 by the Lebanese government in accordance with the regulations of the League of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In 1950, this group formed a Lebanese Junior Red Cross composed of four different age groups, the eldest made up of university students. These youth groups, the junior arm of the LRC, served in social and health fields and emphasized care of the environment. They still do today.
Efforts were made to form a Red Cross Club at AUB in 1973 and 1978, but it was not until 1980 that the club was established in its present form. During the 1982 Israeli invasion, the AUB club members helped with the overflow of patients at local hospitals, distributed food and
medicines to the displaced, served as translators and receptionists,
organized blood donation campaigns, and made home visits to the sick. A large red cross painted on the pavement outside West Hall warned away Israeli aircraft.
Today, unlike the immediate emergency services related to war and
conflict, the peacetime activities of the LRCC focus on an expanding range of community service. Yet, most people still think of the AUB Red Cross Club as a first aid organization. “When I first joined,” said El Hage, “I walked into the LRCC tent on Clubs Day on the Oval, expecting to join a first aid club. When they told me they were a service group, I said to myself, ‘Why not try?’ And then I was hooked…True, we are affiliated with the Lebanese Red Cross and they do offer us first aid courses and other training, but we are certainly not primarily a first aid group.” Some members undertake Red Cross first aid training, but it is neither obligatory nor a primary aim of the club.
In addition to running the annual projects for the needy and underprivileged and conducting blood donation drives and fundraising campaigns on campus, members provide, in cooperation with the Lebanese Red Cross, first aid support teams for large university events, such as the spring Folk Dance Festival, major sports events held on campus, and
the annual commencement exercises. On those occasions, the club’s teams work alongside the Lebanese Red Cross contingent, which provides experienced first aid professionals and an ambulance. LRCC members help ushers with crowd control, distribute water, watch for heat stroke and dehydration, and direct the LRC first aid teams to victims in need. The club’s members are also frequently on duty when other clubs host large groups on campus.
In addition to the LRCC, there are several other community service clubs at AUB that focus on filling needs related to public health and environmental education, literacy tutoring, human rights awareness, or aid to Palestinian refugees. MainGate will be covering the work of those clubs in future issues. Like the LRCC, these clubs create a living bond of concern between the academic community and the larger world beyond the campus.