The TV images showed Red Cross give out food and water on the hurricane hit island of Antigua. But, where did the Red Cross organisation come from?
My memory was fuzzy with parcels to prisoners of war and white four-tracks in humanitarian disasters. So, time for a little reading, I thought.
Turns out, it all started with a Swiss businessman finding himself caught up in a battlefield at Salferino, Italy, in 1859. It was there that Jean-Henri Dunant saw 40,000 dead or wounded and decided to do something about it. In particular, he was shocked at the lack of medical care. He succeeded in getting the local villagers to assist soldiers of both sides without favour. He then returned home and wrote a book.
And it was this A Memory of Solferino that changed the treatment of those involved in wars. Read by national leaders, they saw the value of medical care that can cross front lines and killing fields.
Today the Red Cross have nearly 97 million volunteers who protect human life without fear and favour. Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said of their efforts in the Caribbean:
“We are on the ground providing people with urgent access to clean water and shelter now.
Communities will take years to recover from the destruction of this hurricane. Unfortunately, there will be no quick solutions. The Red Cross will be there to support them every step of the way. “
Yet we must recognise Dunant’s source of compassion. Since, as a devout Roman Catholic, he saw his vision as profoundly Christian.
Let’s remember him for an organisation that this world desperately needs. Or, as was said at his award of the first ever Nobel Peace Prize, in 1901:
“Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century would probably have never been undertaken.”
Thank God, then, he did.