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Celebrating legacy of selfless service to humanity

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Red Cross volunteers at work

Red Cross volunteers at work

Would there not be some means, during a period of peace and calm, of forming relief societies whose object would be to have the wounded cared for in time of war by enthusiastic, devoted volunteers, fully qualified for the task?
-Jean-Henry Dunant- Founder, International Red Cross.

It all started on the battle field in 1859, Henry Dunant, a young Swiss was on a business trip to see the Great Napoleon Bonaparte when he ran into the bloody and fierce battle in Solferino, Italy, between the armies of imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance.

He had to abandon the trip when he saw that within five hours, the battle field had over 40,000 men who had either died or were dying or severely wounded and needed urgent medical help and attention.  Because there were more veterinary doctors than medical doctors, Dunant had to rush to the closest village to mobilise local men to come to the aid of the wounded soldiers and attend to their physical needs such as food and comfort them in order for them to have hope of living again.

On his return, he called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war, and pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions. Solferino’s experience over, Dunant then encapsulated the idea of the memory of Solferino in a book and Red Cross was birthed.

The Red Cross operations began in 1863 when five Geneva men, including Dunant, set up the International Committee for Relief to the wounded, later to become the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Its operations is in almost 200 countries of the world including Nigeria which adopted its principles some 50 years ago and since then, it has been no holds barred.

All over the country, from the East to the West, South and North, the activities of the Red Cross in providing help and relieve materials to the vulnerable are so compelling that one will not but notice and feel the effects of their presence at conflict and disaster areas.

For being the largest and longest surviving humanitarian organization around the globe, the Red Cross rolled out the drums on May 8, to mark the World Red Cross day which also coincide with the birthday of the founder.  All over the 36 states of the federation including the FCT, volunteers and staff of the organization went on voluntary and humanitarian services to the less privilege and the vulnerable.

They went cleaning streets, visiting hospitals and hospices, orphanages and homes, the prisons and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps all in a bid to show and tell these people that they are not alone in their struggles.

However, the journey over the years has not been a smooth one. Society insisted that humanitarian needs and the places where they render their services are becoming more complex and demanding.  Citing the increasing spate of insurgency, rise in communal clashes, floods, and political violence, the Secretary General, Bello Hamman Diran, said the society had never been under the kind of intense pressure it had experienced in the last five years.

He said the upsurge in these man-made and natural disasters had continued to place untold demand on the society which had necessitated the need for the society to up its game and increase its activities and the amount of relieve materials needed in conflict and disaster zones across the country.

Diran who spoke through the head of communication, Nwakpa Nwakpa, said the society had to rely on the seven fundamental principles of the Red Cross adopted in Nigeria 50 years ago to stay afloat and relevant in all the nook and crannies of the country where its services are required.

He said the principle of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality had assisted the society to maintained a non-partisan and non-religious stance in dispensing relieve materials and offering assistance and help to the helpless in times of crisis and conflict.

His words: ‘’Our principles ensures that all our activities  are in the spirit of preventing and alleviating human suffering throughout the country; respect for the human being and promote mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace.  We help people solely in accordance with their needs and we do not seek to determine guilt.  We help regardless of nationality, race, religious and political opinions’’.

He went further: ‘Every one must be able to turn to the Red Cross with unlimited and total trust.  We must stand above partiality as a symbol of humanity and help.  That is why we refrain from taking sides in any hostility, political, racial, religious or ideological dispute.  The movement is independent.  The national societies while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the law of the country are independent, enabling them to remain true to the principles of the movement.  We offer help voluntarily whenever people are in need without any desire for gain’’.

For the continued sustenance of the activities of the Red Cross in Nigeria, the Secretary General called on the incoming government to support its activities in order to make its work spread evenly across the country.  Diran said it is imperative for any government in power to align itself with the interventions of the society since the aim is to complement government’s efforts at reducing the suffering of the vulnerable.

He said since government cannot meet all the needs of the people, it is imperative that those at the helm of affairs encourage those who had given themselves to humanitarian and voluntary services.  This partnership, he said, would assist the organization in cushioning the demands of the needy when the time to come to their aid arises.

The Red Cross has volunteers scattered across all professions and callings which does not necessarily have to be medical and they are at short notices drafted to conflict and disaster area to lend helping hands.   In order to imbibe the spirit of volunteerism in the younger generation, the society also has members in primary and secondary schools where they are exposed to simple techniques of administration of first aid.

Head, Organizational Development of the society, Adeyemo Andronicus, explained that the idea to have young Red Cross members stemmed from the need to build compassion in the hearts of the younger ones and for them to see everyone as one and therefore treat the vulnerable with the same level of impartiality and selflessness.  This, he said, will help the young ones to grow with caring hearts and the desire to give back to their immediate society.

He said as a community based organization and its culture of integration and interactions with religious leaders irrespective of their beliefs, the Red Cross has been able to gain access to troubled and volatile areas because of the understanding of the people that the services of the Red Cross do not have any political or religious coloration.   He said the seven fundamental principle of the society had helped it to live above board and endeared it to the hearts of the people.

‘’These principles had assisted us in carrying out our humanitarian services. If you want to genuinely give, you have to do it with impartiality. You cannot say you will give to someone first because he/she belongs to your religion.  We attend to people based on the urgency of their needs.  For instance, if someone is bleeding, you cannot leave such person because he doesn’t belong to your religion and attend to someone who is shouting at the top of his voice because he had bruises.  Now the idea is the person that is shouting because of bruises still have strength to shout but someone bleeding may not be able to shout and can pass into unconsciousness if prompt care is not given to him and may even die, so  that’s the essence of impartiality’’.

He said the Red Cross is leading other humanitarians organizations in their interventions in the distribution of relieve materials to those who are displaced by insurgency in the Northern part of the country.  With an estimate of over 20,000 relieve materials to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Andronicus said the society has been able to cover wider ground but added that a lot still need to be done for these people.  He said safe motherhood kits to aid the pregnant women in their midst was distributed; shelters were built in some of the camps to complement what government has been doing and the society has continued to give psycho-social support to the victims of insurgency.

‘’People cannot be integrated back fully into the society if they are still wounded internally. The psychological wounds they had sustained over the period they were in captivity has to be taken care of first so that their dignity will be fully restored.  They need psycho-social support and Red Cross has scaled things up in that direction’.

Nwakpa also said that the most challenging issue concerning the IDPs is the fact that the places they used to know as home since the beginning of their lives are no more in existence.  He said the experience of the IDPs in their bid to return home can be likened to people leaving from one camp to another.  This, he said, is due to the ruins occasioned by the activities of the insurgent which had rendered the people homeless.

‘’Most of these people has no place to return to, going back to their villages is as if they are going from one camp to the other, because there is nothing on ground in their villages. Their homes are gone and this is huge.  When they get to where they had known all their lives as their villages, they still don’t have where to lIve, they have no food to eat and so they will still rely on relieve coming from humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross’’.

The over 150 years of activities of the Red Cross around the globe has left no one in doubt that Henry Dunant actually lived for and beyond his time.


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