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Volunteering: the spirit of humanitarian action

06-05-2011 Statement

A joint statement by the presidents of the IFRC and ICRC to mark World Red Cross Red Crescent Day on 8 May 2011

Geneva (ICRC/IFRC) – Haiti, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Japan. As the world watched each of these humanitarian crises evolve, volunteers from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were among the first to respond. From rescuing the sick and wounded to providing first aid, water and food to those in need, our volunteers have been putting community first for more than 150 years.

This year marks both the 10th anniversary of the International Year of the Volunteer as well as the European Year of Volunteering. For the Red Cross and Red Crescent, this is an opportunity to promote and recognise the role volunteers have played in enabling our Movement to become the largest humanitarian network in the world. Today, one in every 2,000 people volunteers for the Movement. This means nearly every community on the globe has a Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteer supporting it. That’s a truly inspiring statistic and something we should all be proud of.

It’s worth pointing out that volunteers are often themselves the victims of the very same crises they are responding to. The courage and sense of solidarity it takes to put one’s own suffering aside and take action to help others is quite simply remarkable. Time and again, it’s the volunteers who roll up their sleeves, wrap a reassuring arm over the shoulder of a distressed neighbour and put their hearts into making things better.

Without the Movement’s 13 million active volunteers, we would not be able to help the roughly 150 million people who need our assistance each year. In 2009, there were 20 Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers for every paid staff member – volunteers extending the reach of the Movement and providing services with an estimated economic value of over six billion US dollars. The social value that volunteers bring is incalculable, and even more far-reaching.

Disasters will continue to happen. War and other situations of violence, natural and technological disasters, hunger, disease, and discrimination are the reality of our humanitarian landscape. One of the greatest resources we have in addressing these crises is our volunteers, and that’s why we’re using World Red Cross Red Crescent Day this year to pay tribute to their invaluable service.

Let's remember also that volunteers don't just respond to emergencies. On a day-to-day basis they are working quietly around the globe, engaging communities in the very spirit of togetherness. Our commitment, as a Movement, is to work with governments and partners to better protect, promote and recognise the critical role our volunteers play, often in the face of great personal sacrifice.

This coming November, all components of the Movement and all States party to the Geneva Conventions will gather in Geneva for the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The meeting will take place under the "Our world. Your move" banner, which reminds us all that we each have a role to play in making the world a better place. This is the essence and spirit of volunteerism. Each and every one of us can make a difference by engaging in positive action in our communities.

Please join us on 8 May in offering thanks to the volunteers in your community and showing appreciation for all forms of voluntary service.

Tadateru Konoé
President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Jakob Kellenberger
President of the International Committee of the Red Cross