Kindness amid the heat of battle

27th February 1998 at 00:00
From the battle of Solferino to the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross has become a byword for humanitarianism. Reva Klein reports

The cotton mill owners of the last century weren't noted for their humanitarianism. But Henry Dunant, a Swiss, was different. Brought up in a socially conscious household, he spent so much time helping the poor and sick of Geneva that he neglected his mills in Algeria. Realising his business was going downhill rapidly and that he needed help, instead of going to friends or family, he decided to go straight to the top and enlist the help of Napoleon III.

Fortunately for the rest of humankind, his quest for the Emperor in 1859 took him to the battlefields of Italy, where Napoleon was busy waging war. It was while unsuccessfully searching for him that he came upon the Battle of Solferino, a conflict that left 40,000 men and boys killed and injured, left to suffer and die where they fell.

Being the sort of person that he was, he tended to the dead and dying - no matter which army they were from. When he finally returned home, he wrote a book about the horrific suffering he had witnessed. Most importantly, he brought together some wealthy and influential businessmen to plan an organisation to train volunteers to administer first aid and to help people caught up in emergencies and in war.

This was the birth of the Red Cross. It led to the first Geneva Convention on the treatment of injured soldiers, signed by 15 countries. Today, there are 188 signatories to the Convention. In addition, there is the International Red Cross and 170 countries in the world with their own national Red Cross societies. These include the Red Crescent (mainly in Muslim countries which prefer an alternative to the Christian cross) and the Red Star of David in Israel.

These organisations respond to national and international emergencies with volunteers, medical equipment, health, social and domiciliary care. It is, as it calls itself, "the world's largestcaring charity".

The British Red Cross has developed an education policy and resource pack that combines information on the Red Cross with first aid training for secondary school age pupils. There is no glossiness and that is as it should be, given the priorities the Red Cross has to relieve suffering worldwide with the finite resources at its disposal. But the pack makes up in accessibility what it lacks in aesthetics.

Developed by Di Chesterman, the national schools officer, the aims of the pack are practical and theoretical. The British Red Cross hopes to not only provide young people with basic first aid skills and information on its work on a national and international level, showing how the various parts interface and complement each other's work, but "to develop an awareness in young people of international humanitarian law, to promote personal responsibility, tolerance and mutual respect". Recruitment of young people into the Red Cross Youth Movement is another desired outcome.

While the pack is small and modest looking, the scope of its fact sheets gives users a good basis of understanding what the Red Cross is all about. The first aid section contains session plans and curriculum links, scenario assignment cards and photographs. There are also video, CD-Rom and first aid manuals, bandages, dressings and first aid equipment and a resuscitation manikin.

Ms Chesterman hopes that the pack will be taken up by British schools which previously may have availed themselves of Red Cross first aid trainers. "With the packs, schools can do it for themselves."

The certificated first aid scheme, and the other material, has been designed to complement the curriculum. "Schools are most likely to use it in personal and social education teaching, but it also lends itself to extra curricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards," she said.

* The British Red Cross First Aid Schools Pack pound;95.99. The British Red Cross, 9 Grosvenor Crescent, London SW1X 7EJ. Tel: 0171-235 5454. Stand IT102

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