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May 8 - World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day

08-05-2001 News Release 01/15


Volunteers - making a difference in people's lives


Ref. SO-D-00034-10


This year, celebrations to mark the birthday of Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, will highlight the work of tens of millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers who respond to human suffering in communities around the world. Every year, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies bring assistance to more than 200 million vulnerable people.

To mark 2001, the United Nations International Year of Volunteers, the Movement calls on governments to improve the legal, fiscal and political base for volunteering. The value of volunteers'work must be recognized and their working conditions improved. Volunteers make a real difference in people's lives because they act at the local level and they come from the communities in which they work. They know the culture, they know the language, they are there when disaster strikes and they are best placed to implement long-term development or rehabilitation programmes.

In November 1999, at the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the States party to the Geneva Conventions recognized " the growing importance of volunteers as providers of practical and emotional support to vulnerable people in the community " . They also undertook to review and update their national legislation so as to facilitate the work of voluntary organizations.

The International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has noted a significant decrease in the numbers of volunteers over the past decade. This has prompted a decision to implement a plan of action to develop better leadership, support and structures to improve the recruitment, training, deployment, and mobilization of volunteers.

What do volunteers do? Some examples worldwide: they provide first aid after a disaster in El Salvador; pull survivors out of the rubble of an earthquake in India; rescue people from flood waters in Nicaragua; transport the wounded to hospital in Côte d'Ivoire, bring food, blankets and psychological support to those displaced by war in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; help dig latrines and educate people on disease prevention in Mozambique; provide care and compassion to those dying of AIDS in Zimbabwe; bring food and seeds to drought victims in Tajikistan and conduct fund-raising campaigns in Europe. All this in the name of voluntary service, not prompted by desire for gain, and in the name of the Movement's mission : to assist people in need.

In 2001, the Movement will commemorate the awarding of the first Nobel Peace Prize - in December 1901 - to Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy. Henry Dunant was the Movement’s first volunteer leader. When he saw the wounded an d dying soldiers lying unattended after the Battle of Solferino, in 1859, he organized village women and others to assist them. A few years later, he wrote in A Memory of Solferino : " Would it not be possible (...) to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers ? " . Dunant's simple idea grew to become the world's largest humanitarian network, with some 100 million members and volunteers.