The Red Cross movement started with a young man named Henry Dunant who was born in Geneva on 8 May, 1828, and came from a devout and charitable Calvinist family. He did not finish secondary school, and instead took up a post as an apprentice to a Geneva bank. In 1853, he travelled to Algeria to take charge of the Swiss colony. He started construction of a wheat mill, but could not obtain the land concession that was essential for its operation. After travelling to Tunisia he returned to Geneva, where he decided to approach Napoleon III to obtain the business document he needed.
At the time, the Emperor was commanding the Franco-Sardinian troops fighting the Austrians in northern Italy, and it was there that Henry Dunant decided to seek him out. This was how he came to be present at the end of the battle of Solferino, in Lombardy. This experience would change his life and the world.
In Solferino Henry witnessed the worst of the war. He saw wounded soldiers from both armies being left to die because no assistance was given to them. He saw those who tried to assist being shot and killed. He saw young soldiers spend their last minutes in despair and alone.
Henry assembled a group of residents from Solferino and set up a make-shift hospital in a nearby church. These volunteers provided medical attention to all soldiers who needed it, independent of their origin or affiliation. They also assisted the dying with writing final letters to their loved ones abroad.
Upon returning to Geneva, Henry wrote A Memory of Solferino, which eventually led to the creation of the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, the future International Committee of the Red Cross .
An international congress for the “complete and final abolition of the traffic in Negroes and the slave trade” opened in London on 1 February 1875, on Henry’s initiative. There followed years of wandering and utter poverty for Henry: he traveled on foot in Alsace, Germany and Italy, living on charity and the hospitality of a few friends.
Finally, in 1887, he ended up in the Swiss village of Heiden, overlooking Lake Constance, where he fell ill. He found refuge in the local hospice, and it was there that he was discovered in 1895 by a journalist, Georg Baumberger, who wrote an article about him which, within a few days, was reprinted in the press throughout Europe. Messages of sympathy reached Dunant from all over the world; overnight he was once more famous and honoured. In 1901, he received the first ever Nobel Peace Prize.
Henry Dunant died on 30 October 1910. Yet his legacy continues to live on. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has grown and expanded and continues to carry out its Principles and aims in over 120 countries world wide. It is not only an organization; it is also a family of 115+ million members, of which over 200 are from the Cayman Islands Red Cross.