Humanitarian Organization: For 60 Years—People Helping People

Sixty years ago this month, following the atrocities of World War II, nations of the world convened in Switzerland to revise and expand upon wartime protections granted in earlier treaties. The Geneva Conventions resulted, which articulated safeguards for those who were not actively engaged in fighting: the wounded, civilians, and prisoners of war.

It was also at that moment that the Red Cross was acknowledged as the humanitarian organization that made it possible for people to help people and neighbor to help neighbor, without regard to any of the racial, religious, ethnic, or political barriers that often lead to disparate treatment.

Since its inception, the Red Cross has been there for people at their time of greatest need — be it a house fire, flood, or international conflict. While we inform the public of our local mission, very rarely do we have the opportunity to remind the public of the global scope of our activities.

IN MY conversations with volunteers, donors, and corporate partners it has become clear that many members of our local community have familial and business ties all around the world. In addition to our brave men and women who currently serve in the armed forces outside of the United States, we also have Virginian students, missionaries, business people, government employees, contractors, and others who are studying or working abroad. I am proud that our local Red Cross chapters are a conduit for news, information, and assistance for our community members and their loved ones far away from home, particularly during times of natural emergencies or political unrest.

The widely recognized symbol of the American Red Cross is one of safety and hope. It is the same symbol that arrives on the scene of a local fire or appears on a horrific battlefield. We are very connected to our international services and though we may not be as vocal about it, we usually have a neutral, discrete, humanitarian role in helping people caught in the middle of the international conflicts that make the front page of the local press.

The Red Cross provides a vehicle for us to demonstrate that the citizens of this region are caring partners in the global community. Whether we are sending clothing, money, first aid kits, or instructors/volunteers, we are connected to a humanitarian movement that is powerful and endearing to the human spirit.

For example, a Richmond woman who often travels as a church volunteer nurse to Haiti to work in an orphanage recently came by our offices to see if we could support a health clinic she was instrumental in establishing. She had connected with the Red Cross of Haiti that was supplying instructors to teach first aid to the children who lived in the orphanage. We donated 20 first aid kits that will be given to the children who complete the course.

We also introduced her to our Web of Hope volunteers who knit, crochet, and sew clothing for underserved populations worldwide. The Web volunteers now plan to send sundresses to that Haitian orphanage in October. (In November, the Web will celebrate their 100,000th item shipped abroad. These are local women who have had a global impact!)

ANOTHER example of Virginia Red Crossers reaching their arms around the globe was when we recently connected a young man from Sudan with his uncle in Africa. The grateful young man from Sudan is now an American citizen and has since become a volunteer with our local chapter. Every year our tracing programs connect many local people with family members living abroad, most of whom have been previously unsuccessful in their attempts to reunite their families. Our Red Cross network of chapters and sister societies allows us to have a unique global reach.

I am proud to be associated with an organization that has as its mission to alleviate human suffering, no matter where it occurs. Our community is involved in the lives of others who live far away — whose names we’ll never know and whose situations are inconceivable to us. However, it is our providing those services anyway that sets us apart as a community and nation.

Sixty years ago, the nations of the world set aside all their differences to agree on basic human principles during times of conflict. Your local American Red Cross stands ready to uphold those principles both locally and abroad, and we could not do it without the support of a caring community. I invite anyone interested in learning more about this aspect of our Red Cross to contact us.