Henri Dunant, founder of Red Cross movement
He founded the world's largest organization, which mission is to help the wounded, received the first Nobel Peace Prize, and died in poverty, because gave all their money for charity purposes. His name is little known, but everyone knows his work.
Jean Henry Dunant was born on May 8, 1828 in Geneva in merchant family of Jean Jacques Dunant, who was a member of the governing council of the city. Parents, who were sincerely religious people, from Henry’s childhood taught their son not only the knowledge of business, but the philanthropy, compassion and the desire to do good. Mr. Dunant was interested in economics, religion, social activities. Since his 18 years old he studied economics, and visited the poor and the sick in the evening. At his age of 20 on Sundays he started to visit prisoners of city jail, talked to them, tried to support them, to keep their faith in people and in God. After graduating the college, he entered to the bank as a trainee.
At the age of 26 years old, Dunant began a position with one of Geneva's largest banking houses in North Africa and Sicily. While knowing this position would produce his income, Dunant continued to work for charitable causes and established a YMCA outpost in Algeria. In 1859, he created a business to operate in foreign colonies, a corn-growing and trading company called the Financial and Industrial Company of Mons-Djémila Mills. however, the land and water rights were not clearly assigned, and the colonial authorities were not especially cooperative. As a result, Dunant decided to appeal directly to French emperor Napoléon III, who was with his army in Lombardy at the time. France was fighting on the side of Piedmont-Sardinia against Austria, who had occupied much of today's Italy. Napoleon's headquarters were located in the small city of Solferino. Dunant wrote a flattering book full of praise for Napoleon III with the intention to present it to the emperor, and then traveled to Solferino to meet with him personally.
How do the events that completely change person's life happen? Is this the confluence of circumstances? Is this the fate? Or does the man him/herself make his/her destiny by calling the situations s/he is ready for and should pass through?
Dunant arrived on Solferino on the evening of June 24, 1859, on the same day a battle between the two sides had occurred nearby. Fourty thousand wounded, dying and dead, remained on the battlefield, and there appeared to be little attempt to provide care.
«When the sun came up on the 25th [of June 1859], it disclosed the most dreadful sights imaginable. Bodies of men and horses covered the battlefield; corpses were strewn over roads, ditches, ravines, thickets and fields; the approaches of Solferino were literally thick with dead... The poor wounded men that were being picked up all day long were ghastly pale and exhausted. Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupefied look as though they could not grasp what was said to them; they stared at one out of haggard eyes, but their apparent prostration did not prevent them from feeling their pain. Others were anxious and excited by nervous strain and shaken by spasmodic trembling.... All kinds of splinters, pieces of bone, scraps of clothing, equipment or footgear, dirt or pieces of lead, often aggravate the severity of a wound and double the suffering that must be borne. ». Dead bodies have been buried within three days.
The nearest town Castiglione is fully filled with wounded. 9,000 people were on the streets, in churches, in squares. Mr. Dunant could not stand aside and started to help the wounded, organized the work of volunteers. He had no medical knowledge, but as he knew how to bandage wounds, bring food, water, tobacco. He was just talking with the wounded, which were in a very depressed condition, because they did not have any help. Mr. Dunant helped everyone – soldiers of his army and enemy soldiers. He tried to convince other volunteers to act in this way. His call «Tutti Fratelli» («We are all brothers") was the motto of further assistance.
It appeared at this time in this place accidently. He could just pay no attention to these things, as many people did. But he could not. Probably such behavior distinguishes a real man.
The Army Medical Service in those days was very sparse and could not cope with so many wounded. There were only six French doctors in the city. "During the first week after the battle the wounded, who were beyond hope according to doctors, have been left without care, and they were dying in loneliness. And it was very obvious in view of the limited number of paramedics and large number of the wounded. It was very cruel and horrible, but inevitably; the time was very valuable and there was no sense to spend it for the wounded beyond hope, because it is very necessary for those who could still be saved”. "There were many young Hungarians, Czechs, Romanians, who had just joined the army. They died due to the exhaustion after battle or due to the loss of blood, and even those who were lightly wounded died of hunger and exhaustion!"
In those terrible days Mr. Dunant had the idea to create voluntary medical societies, which could assist the wounded during the war. "Oh, how valuable it would have been in those Lombardy towns to have had a hundred experienced and qualified voluntary orderlies and nurses! .. Such a group would have formed a nucleus around which could have been railied the scanty help and dispersed efforts which needed competent guidance" "... If there had been enough assistance to collect the wounded in the plains of Medola and from the bottom of the ravines of San Martino, on the sharp slopes of Mount Fontana, or on the low hills above Solferino, how different things would have been! There would have been none of those long hours of waiting on June 24, hours of poignant anguish and bitter helplessness, despite their fearful pain, and beckoned vainly for a letter to be brought over to them, and there would never have been the terrible possibility of what only too probably happened the next day-living men being buried among the dead! "
Is it the weakness to feel the pain of other people as their own pain or even sharper? Or is the compassion the driving force that allows a person to make something impossible?
Few days changed the life of Henry Dunant. He could not meet the emperor, returned to Geneva, and wrote the book "A Memory of Solferino", where he described a terrible side of the war, which has not been discussed in those days. In that book he expresses his ideas to create voluntary societies for assisting the wounded.
The book was timely and impressed many people. Dunant received letters from all over Europe. His ideas began to be implemented. In February 1863 a small committee was organized in Geneva. Its purpose was to create voluntary societies. Mr. Dunant was appointed to the position of the Secretary of the Committee. Negotiations with the governments of various countries were held. The international conference started to be prepared and it brought together the efforts of national assisting teams.
Mr. Dunant sent letters to the governments of different countries, presented his ideas, personally met with many of representative of these governments. Owing to his efforts and incredible energy, on October 29, 1863 39 delegates from 16 countries met in Geneva. The Agreement, which is known as the Geneva Convention, was signed. It includes such important provisions as safe conduct of those people who provide care, adoption of distinguishing mark for such people: a red cross on a white background (modified Swiss flag, as a sign of gratitude to the country, whose representative has presented these ideas.) The date of October 29, 1863 is the birthday of the Red Cross. Less than two months later the first Aid Society was opened in Württemberg. Over the next year 10 other Red Cross Societies have been established: in the Duchy of Oldenburg, in Belgium, Prussia, Denmark, France, Italy, Mecklenburg, Spain and Germany.
On August 8, 1864 at the Conference of the International Committee on assisting the wounded the Red Cross emblem received a special status: it became the sign of protection of people wearing it, of vehicles, buildings with such emblem. It was legitimized by an intergovernmental agreement - "Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field ". It was signed on September 22, 1864.
Let's think for a minute. Within two years the committee consisting of five people could transform into signing the international agreement by the governments of 16 countries (the Geneva Convention is still considered the one of the most enduring agreements of the international law). It was done through the efforts and struggle of one man!
Due to disputes which Dunant had with members of the Committee, he started to work alone, although he was the Secretary of the Committee till 1867. He also promoted the protection of war prisoners, wounded and shipwrecked in the Navy. Meanwhile, the Algerian company of Dunant was closed, because he failed conducting the business for a long time there. In 1867, Mr. Dunant was declared a bankrupt and was strongly condemned by the Geneva public. Despite this, in the same year he was declared an honorary member of Red Cross Committees in Austria, Holland, Sweden, Prussia and Spain. However, as a certain material wealth was one of conditions for the membership in the ICRC, to avoid misunderstandings, Mr. Dunant was forced to resign from his post as Secretary of the International Committee. The resignation was accepted.
There is a popular expression: "Otherworldly man". These people do not care about their material wealth, social status. They live for a single idea, which is their life purpose, and devote all their efforts and their talent to implement it. It sounds strange in relation to a business person. Henry Dunant fits this image.
1870. A new war (between Prussia and France) started in Europe. Despite the catastrophic financial situation, Mr. Dunant again helped the wounded. He was actively involved in locating the equipment, which was sent by the French Society providing the aid to the wounded, at medical infirmaries. He visited the wounded in hospitals of Paris. It was a suggestion of Dunant to use soldiers’ medallions helping to identify the dead and seriously injured soldier.
Many Dunant’s ideas were ahead of his time. For example, when he understood that it is necessary to educate people, he started to implement the project of the international library. The first books began to appear in 1869, but the war prevented the implementation of this project. In 1874 Mr. Dunant asserted himself again by initiating the campaign against the slave trade. On February 1, 1875 in London the last public speech of Dunant took place. He became a bankrupt.
Mr. Dunant, being forgotten almost by everybody, was in a desperate poverty for ten years. He traveled on foot through Alsace, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. He often had no money for food, painted his dilapidated coat with ink and bleached shirts with chalk. Owing to small funds sent by his family, he settled in Hayden, where he lived till the end of his life.
Did he suffer after he had lost everything – his money, basic living conditions, and public recognition? It's difficult to say. But it seems that such lost was not so terrible for him. After all, everything he had lost did not play a significant role in his life. His main wealth was his mercy, compassion, willingness to respond to the grief of others, the ability to live for other people. And nobody could take it away.
In 1895 the Red Cross worked in 37 countries, the Geneva Convention for the Relief of the Wounded was signed by 42 countries. In the same year the world again recalled Dunant thanks to journalist William Zondreggeru, who could find him. Interview with Dunant became a sensation. Leading world newspapers published this interview. After Russian Empress read about the plight of Dunant, she assigned him a financial aid. Mr. Dunant did not spend this money, as well as the other cash subsidies, and transferred all the money to the Red Cross, taking the minimum for his living.
In 1901, Henry Dunant together with Frederic Passy became the first winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The received amount he gave for the charity in Switzerland and Norway.
Mr. Dunant died on Oct. 30, 1910. The tombstone on his grave represents a man on his knees, who gives water to the wounded soldier.