World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day

World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day is an annual celebration of the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. World Red Cross Red Crescent Day is celebrated on 8 May each year. This date is the anniversary of the birth of Henry Dunant (born 8 May 1828), the founder of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize.

Henry Dunant was born 8 May 1828  in Geneva, Switzerland. His family was devoutly Calvinist and had significant influence in Geneva society. His parents stressed the value of social work, and his father was active helping orphans and parolees, while his mother worked with the sick and poor. His father worked in a prison and an orphanage. Dunant grew up during a period of religious awakening known as the Réveil, and at age 18 he joined the Geneva Society for Alms giving. In 1846 he founded the so-called “Thursday Association”, a loose band of young men that met to study the Bible and help the poor, and he spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work. On 30 November 1852, he founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization. In 1849, at age 21, Dunant was forced to leave the Collège Calvin due to poor grades, and he began an apprenticeship with the money-changing firm Lullin et Sautter. After its successful conclusion, he remained as an employee of the bank.

In 1853, Dunant visited Algeria, Tunisia, and Sicily, on assignment with a company devoted to the “colonies of Setif” (Compagnie genevoise des Colonies de Sétif). Inspired by the trip, he wrote his first book with the title An Account of the Regency in Tunis (Notice sur la Régence de Tunis), published in 1858. In 1856, he created a business to operate in foreign colonies, and, after being granted a land concession by French-occupied Algeria, a corn-growing and trading company called the Financial and Industrial Company of Mons-Djémila Mills (Société financière et industrielle des Moulins des Mons-Djémila). However, the the colonial authorities were not especially cooperative. So, Dunant decided to appeal directly to French emperor Napoléon III, who was with his army in Lombardy at the time and also wrote a flattering book full of praise for Napoleon III with the intention to present it to the emperor, and then traveled to Solferino to meet with him personally.

Dunant arrived in Solferino in June 1859, on the same day a battle between the two sides had occurred nearby. Twenty-three thousand wounded, dying and dead remained on the battlefield, and there appeared to be little attempt to provide care. Shocked, Dunant himself took the initiative to organize the civilian population, especially the women and girls, to provide assistance to the injured and sick soldiers. They lacked sufficient materials and supplies, and Dunant himself organized the purchase of needed materials and helped erect makeshift hospitals. He convinced the population to service the wounded without regard to their side in the conflict as per the slogan “Tutti fratelli” (All are brothers) coined by the women of nearby city Castiglione delle Stiviere. He also  gained the release of Austrian doctors captured by the French.

After returning to Geneva  Dunant decided to write a book describing his experiences in Solferino . Entitled Un Souvenir de Solferino (A Memory of Solferino) Describing the battle, its costs, the horrifc conditions and the chaotic circumstances afterwards. He also developed the idea that in the future a neutral organization should exist to provide care to wounded soldiers. He distributed the book to many leading political and military figures in Europe. Dunant also travelled through Europe to promote his ideas, and the President of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, jurist Gustave Moynier,arranged a meeting of the organization during whichDunant’s recommendations were examined and assessed by the members to see how they could be implemented

They created a five-person Committee which included Dunant, Gustave Moynier, the Swiss army general Henri Dufour, and doctors Louis Appia and Théodore Maunoir. The first meeting on 17 February 1863 is now considered the founding date of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Dunant was an idealist which led to conflict with Moynier  Who considered Dunant’s idea to establish neutrality protections for care providers unfeasible. In 1863, 14 states took part in a meeting in Geneva organized by the committee to discuss the improvement of care for wounded soldiers. In 1864, a diplomatic conference organized by the Swiss Parliament led to the signing of the First Geneva Convention by 12 states. In April 1867, the bankruptcy of the financial firm Crédit Genevois led to a scandal involving Dunant. He was forced to declare bankruptcy and was condemned by the Geneva Trade Court In 1868 for deceptive practices. The social outcry in Geneva, a city deeply rooted in Calvinist traditions, also led to calls for him to separate himself from the International Committee. On 25 August 1868, he resigned as Secretary and, on 8 September he left.

In February 1868, Dunant’s mother died. Later that year he was also expelled from the YMCA and In March 1867, he left his home city Geneva. Napoléon III’s offer to take over half of Dunant’s debts was also thwarted by Moynier’s efforts. So Dunant moved to Paris, where he continued to pursue his humanitarian ideas and plans. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), he founded the Common Relief Society (Allgemeine Fürsorgegesellschaft) and soon after the Common Alliance for Order and Civilization (Allgemeine Allianz für Ordnung und Zivilisation). He argued for disarmament negotiations and for the erection of an international court to mediate international conflicts. Later he worked for the creation of a world library, an idea which had echoes in future projects such as UNESCO. Despite being appointed an honorary member of the national Red Cross societies of Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Prussia and Spain, he was nearly forgotten By the Red Cross Movement. Between 1874 and 1886, he moved between Stuttgart, Rome, Corfu, Basel, and Karlsruhe. In Stuttgart he met the Tübingen University student Rudolf Müller And while living in London, his finacial situation improved and he moved to Heiden where he met the young teacher Wilhelm Sonderegger and his wife Susanna who encouraged him to record his life experiences. Sonderegger’s wife founded a branch of the Red Cross in Heiden and in 1890 Dunant became its honorary president.

With Sonderegger, Dunant promoted his ideas further and published a new edition of his book. Sonderegger died in 1904 at the age of only forty-two. Despite their strained relationship, Dunant was destraught. Wilhelm and Susanna Sonderegger’s admiration for Dunant inspired their son René to publish a compilation of letters from Dunant to his father. In September 1895, Georg Baumberger, the chief editor of the St. Gall newspaper Die Ostschweiz, wrote an article about the Red Cross founder, whom he had met in Heiden. The article entitled “Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross”, appeared in the German Illustrated Magazine Über Land und Meer, and was soon reprinted in many other publications. Following this He received the Swiss Binet-Fendt Prize and a note from Pope Leo XIII. In 1897, Rudolf Müller, who was now working as a teacher in Stuttgart, also wrote a book about the origins of the Red Cross, altering the official history to stress Dunant’s role and also included the text of A Memory of Solferino. Dunant began writing to Bertha von Suttner and was especially active in writing about women’s rights, and in 1897 facilitated the founding of a “Green Cross” women’s organization. In 1901, Dunant was awarded the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for his role in founding the International Red Cross Movement and initiating the Geneva Convention. Norwegian military physician Hans Daae, who had received a copy of Müller’s book, advocated Dunant’s case on the Nobel committee. The award was jointly given to French pacifist Frédéric Passy, founder of the Peace League and active with Dunant in the Alliance for Order and Civilization. In 1903 Dunant was given an honorary doctorate by the medical faculty of the University of Heidelberg.

He lived in the nursing home in Heiden until his death. In the final years of his life, he suffered from depression and paranoia about pursuit by his creditors and Moynier. There were even days when Dunant insisted that the cook of the nursing home first taste his food before his eyes to protect him against possible poisoning. In his final years, he spurned and attacked Calvinism and organized religion generally. He was said to be agnostic.

The idea for an “annual action which could take hold in the whole world which would be a major contribution to peace” was introduced just after World War I and evolved out of the “Red Cross Truce, an initiative that was studied by an international commission established at the 14th International Conference of the Red Cross. Its results, presented to the 15th International Conference in Tokyo in 1934, was approved and having considered the principles of the truce, and its applicability across different regions of the world, the General Assembly of the International Federation of the Red Cross Societies (IFRC) asked the League of the Red Cross Societies (LORCS) to study the feasibility of adopting an annual International Red Cross Day. Two years later, the proposal was adopted and the first Red Cross Day was celebrated on 8 May 1948. The official title of the day has changed over time, and it became “World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day” in 1984.

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