This piece is contributed by Rhea Hans who completed her one-month internship with the ICRC New Delhi Regional Delegation in July 2018.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a neutral organisation with the essential function of ensuring humanitarian assistance for the victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. The ICRC is also the guardian of international humanitarian law (IHL) and promotes its implementation in national law. This information just provides a brief overview of the ICRC’s work and it was only during my internship that I got a chance to understand the vast scope of its activities in India and around the world. My work was concentrated on the sorting, arranging and captioning of photographs. The images I worked with, acquired over the years, capture countless activities, programmes and initiatives of the ICRC in the field of health, innovation, disability, new technology and international law among others.

Even though the nature of this work was not directly related to the course I am pursuing at the university, I had always romanticised the idea of photographs and was therefore keen to take up this opportunity. It provided a great platform to not only gain experience at one of the world’s oldest humanitarian organisations, but also gave me a chance to closely look at the wide range of its activities. I found events such as the Enable Makeathon and the National Wheelchair Basketball Championship particularly noteworthy as they were refreshing in their endeavour to work ‘with’ and not just ‘for’ persons with disabilities. I also came across a series of thought-provoking panel discussions on IHL, cultural property, autonomous weapons and interesting competitions like the Henry Dunant Memorial Moot Court competition and the Red Cross day essay writing and photography competition to name a few. It intrigued me that all these events were organised by the ICRC, which a lay person customarily associates with relief work and blood donation camps.

The work of captioning old photographs posed challenges, considering the fact that I had not been physically present when any of the photographs were taken. However, the process of writing these captions with the assistance of institutional memory or details that were already mentioned was quite absorbing in certain ways. It gave me a chance to interact with the ICRC staff and look at the different events through a filter of their personal association with the same. This particular exercise, as it were, made me realise how photographs were capable of giving wheels to moments that have passed and words to stories that were left untold.

After a month of working with thousands of photographs, I share some that will stay with me:

This photograph shows a Red Cross volunteer filling up a tracing request form for a refugee whose family member has disappeared. This comes under the Restoring Family Links (RFL) programme of the ICRC. The image features just two pairs of hands, both conveying a story of their own. ©ICRC


A little girl stands outside a burned down house that belonged to her family. The photograph is intriguing as it leaves you with an unsettling feeling. One doesn’t know what she is trying to hide with her hands – laughter or screams. ©ICRC


This photograph of a visually impaired couple exudes warmth and was taken during the challenge identification phase of Enable Makeathon 2, a programme aimed at addressing accessibility and employability of persons with disabilities. ©ICRC


Like all good photographs, this candid photograph from the National Wheelchair Basketball Championship tells a tale and to me this is a tale of invincibility. ©ICRC


India’s wheelchair basketball team ready to play for the first time in the U23 Asia Oceania Zone qualifying tournament in January 2017. The players pose during practice, each with a similar aspiration and distinctly expressive smiles. ©ICRC


Children playfully interact with an Indian Red Cross Society volunteer during a household goods distribution session in Assam. Their exuberant smiles showcase resilience as these families cope with emergencies. ©ICRC


A woman is happy to take home relief items distributed by the Indian Red Cross Society. Even the bare essentials can restore dignity for people caught in humanitarian emergencies. ©ICRC