Giving a voice to people affected by violence.


Elena Maria Hernandez Martinez, Cross Media Associate


1.      Hello Elena, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I was born in Madrid, Spain, on The Least Expected Day, my father’s radio programme on Radio Televisión Española. My brother, my sister and I all grew up through the lens of a video camera. Listening to the radio and playing with microphones was part of our daily life.

Since I was six years old, I’ve had a genuine passion for writing. Also for team sports – basketball, volleyball, football and relay races – which have taught me how to overcome challenges and collaborate with others. I learned to play guitar at the conservatory and I love to sing. When I was 16, my parents sent me to Algeria to study French with an Algerian journalist. What an amazing culture! Since then, I’ve been interested in Arabic, because I think it is such a beautiful language.

I always wanted to be a journalist and follow in my father’s footsteps. But I studied law and business administration instead. Since I had a journalism teacher at home, I knew that I could apply knowledge from my studies as a journalist in the future. Then my international law professor took some of us students to visit the European Union institutions in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. That experience made me think I could become a diplomat or report on international news.

Having worked for big companies like Coca-Cola, Nestlé and MetLife, I felt like I wasn’t helping people or practicing journalism. So I went back to Spain and worked with my father on his radio programme: España Vuelta y Vuelta, which consisted of traveling around Spain to interview different kinds of professionals.  At the same time, I completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations and Communications.

I also earned a degree in human rights and humanitarian law from the American University Washington College of Law. I got along very well with my classmates from Latin America, Africa and Asia: we would play football, dance, go to museums and watch baseball games. During that time, I lived and learned with the war correspondent Fran Sevilla, who now reports on US political affairs. Through him, I met great journalists from Agencia EFE. I also met Amy Goodman, presenter of the TV and radio programme Democracy Now!, who invited me to come watch the show live whenever I wanted!

Later, the United Nations in New York hired me to support filmmakers from all over the world at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). I also worked in the United Nations media accreditation and liaison unit during the 73rd session of the General Assembly, where I met correspondents and learned how to cover global affairs.

2.      When did you join the ICRC? In which department/unit?

I joined the Marketing and Internal Communication Unit at headquarters in April 2019. One month later, the whole Communications Department changed, and I was moved to Cross-Media: the public face of the organization. We tell the stories of the people we assist and protect through audiovisual productions and media contacts, and we act as spokespersons for the ICRC.

I appreciate each member of my team: we all need people who care about us, stand by us, listen to us and give us advice. It’s been incredible, being able to take shared decisions, work together and share responsibilities.


"Our team spirit is revitalized every day through mutual respect, appreciation of achievements and sincere affection. We’ve shared many good times together, learning through teamwork and listening to each other. Everyone working at the ICRC has a great sense of humanity. Every time I’ve needed help, my team has been there to teach me."


3.      Why did you decide to do a traineeship at the ICRC?

When I was 17, I started volunteering in international cooperation and humanitarian projects run by the Spanish Cooperation Agency for International Development (AECID) and the National Red Crescent Societies of Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. I’ve also volunteered with asylum seekers through the National Red Cross Societies of Switzerland, Spain, Peru, Germany, Greece and the USA. I appreciated their commitment to Fundamental Principles such as impartiality, neutrality, independence and universality, and their focus on proximity, proportionality and responsibility.

While I was living in Germany in 2015, the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe reached staggering new levels, and Germany had the most asylum applications. So I joined the Bavarian chapter of the German Red Cross and helped the people in a Flüchtlingsunterkunft or refugee camp to be reunited with their family members. That was part of a wonderful ICRC programme called Restoring Family Links. Working with refugees and migrants, I realized it was my vocation to help make the world better by telling the stories of those who are in need.

4.      As an associate, can you describe the scope of your responsibilities? What projects did you work on and what did you learn?

The Cross-Media team helps position the ICRC as a leader in the humanitarian field through global campaigns and storytelling about our mission and the people we serve. We work across all platforms and channels. My responsibilities include: drafting communication products such as articles and news releases; working on the ICRC web site; acting as a spokesperson; organizing interviews, press conferences and other media events; conducting journalistic research and preparing media materials; filming and recording interviews; connecting international media outlets with the ICRC; preparing social media posts; coordinating global editorial meetings with communications delegates in the field, and more!

Projects I’ve worked on include the Health Care in Danger Initiative, the Missing Persons project, IHL - nuclear weapons campaign, the Humanity campaign - Milennials on War, the Annual Humanitarian Balance in Colombia

During my traineeship, I’ve learned a lot about the ICRC’s operational humanitarian response in different contexts and countries. I’ve also learned from my colleagues: we can’t communicate publicly without counting on each other’s expertise and collaboration.


"Storytelling and finding creative ways of putting the people we serve at the heart of our messages is key to the work we do. By sharing people’s experiences across the world, we contribute to raising awareness and calling on combatants to comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. We give a voice to people affected by violence."


5.      Do you have any special memories or anecdotes to share?

On the first day of my traineeship, I attended a conference on the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions at the Humanitarium. When I mentioned that it was my first day, everybody gave me a round of applause. I felt very welcomed! One month later, I ran a 10-km race to celebrate the anniversary and World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day (8 May).

Another very gratifying experience was when I published my first news release. The first lady of Turkey came to the ICRC and originally said she wouldn’t reply to any questions. However, I was the only one who asked, and I was able to record her answers about Syrian refugees separated from their families in Turkey. She let me take pictures, ask my questions, write the story and share it with journalists. That news release can be read here.

Last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer with colleagues at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on the media team during the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent from 4 to 12 December. I met many correspondents, State representatives, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers from over a hundred countries. The three main themes at the International Conference were international humanitarian law, shifting vulnerabilities, and trust.

Being one of 80 associates hired by the ICRC each year makes me feel very privileged. We all share the enthusiasm and energy that drives the organization’s work. I’m truly thankful to the ICRC for the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. Whether we’re lawyers, economists, journalists, engineers, architects, doctors, nurses, diplomats, forensics, teachers, psychologists, soldiers, linguists, assistants, researchers or technicians… we’re all humanitarians!

6.      What are your future plans?

I’ve been offered a position to stay on as a public relations officer. So I will keep on learning about humanitarian action, storytelling, creative audiovisual content production and journalism. I want to continue learning, practicing journalism and helping people in need.

7.      Any advice for future associates?

Be persistent, patient and proactive. If you want something, work hard and you will get it. If you don’t get it, don’t give up. Things happen for a reason, and there will be a right time for it to happen. Listen to others, learn from them, be humble. Believe in yourself and be thankful for what you have. Keep a positive attitude and be supportive.

In these times of uncertainty (pandemics, terrorism, political tensions, poverty, wars, natural disasters and more) it’s more important than ever to share our passions, be inspired and be happy with the people who love us. Find someone to talk to, with whom you can share your feelings when things that don’t turn out as expected. That’s how we compose the melody of our lives and find harmony. When our souls gets hurt by the adversities of everyday life, just when it feels like we can’t stand them anymore, they make us stronger and give us the energy to go on. Being a good person is more important than any university diploma or professional position.