Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Celebrating World Red Cross Day May 8

by Mary (Jacoby) Hastings
Mary (Jacoby) Hastings

World Red Cross Day is celebrated each year on May 8 to emphasize the role of Red Cross members and volunteers in saving lives and aiding defenseless communities around the world.

The date for the commemoration was chosen because it is the birthday of Red Cross founder Henri Dunant, a Swiss merchant caught up in the Battle of Solferino, Italy, in 1859.

In 1862, Dunant published a book recounting his war memoirs in which he proposed the establishment of a neutral independent body of helpers  that could provide protection and care for the wounded in case of war regardless of side. As a result, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was formed by Dunant and four other men in 1863. It originated as a result of an aspiration to provide first aid as well as all possible assistance to victims on the battlefield, thus alleviating human suffering. In 1901, Dunant was awarded the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for his role in founding the Red Cross movement and initiating the Geneva Convention.

Today, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies represent the world's largest humanitarian network. The movement carries out its activities and is present in more than 185 countries and helps some 233 million aid recipients every year. The National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent comprise approximately 97 million members and volunteers!

Each National Society lives by and operates under the same guiding mission – to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of disasters, emergencies and conflict – and each society is obligated to carry out certain programs that help fulfill this mission, such as providing disaster assistance, mitigating risk, and providing health services. However, how these services are delivered may vary slightly between countries – for example, in some countries, the Red Cross trains nurses and operates medical facilities and ambulance services (in the U.S., we provide training in lifesaving skills but do not operate hospitals or ambulances).

In tandem to the work of the National Societies, the ICRC continues to focus on fulfilling the mandates of the Geneva Conventions. The ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. The ICRC also endeavors to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.

In particular, the ICRC has the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees. But the ICRC also delivers initiatives that support its humanitarian mission.

Read more about the work of the Red Cross

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