Throughout the world on 8 May, more than 100 million people celebrate Red Cross Day and Cayman is no different.
The date marks the founding of the Red Cross by Swiss businessman Henri Dunant.
On 24 June, 1859, Dunant was travelling through the northern Italy town of Solferino, in the north of Italy, on a business trip, hoping to meet French Emperor Napoleon III.
The Battle of Solferino, in which the French and Sardinians were fighting imperial Austria, had just ended. Out of the 320,000 men who fought, 40,000 were left dead or wounded, in the space of 15 hours.
Dunant, who had no medical knowledge, was horrified by the sight of thousands of wounded soldiers lying abandoned with no medical care and organised the local people to care for the soldiers.
The elderly and female residents of the town helped him turn an old church into a makeshift hospital in which they spent their time with soldiers from both sides of the battle. They offered whatever medical assistance they could, and helped them send their final thoughts to their loved ones by writing letters on behalf of the dying men.
Upon returning home, Dunant continued to be haunted by what he had experienced. He wrote a book about the sights that he had seen and expressed his ideas about how these could be prevented from happening again. The book “A Memory of Solferino” was published in 1862. He sent it to a number of influential persons in Europe, including a number of heads of state.
Dunant then set up a committee to help promote the two main ideas of his book: the formation of relief societies for the purpose of giving care and assistance to the wounded in wartime by qualified volunteers (Red Cross Societies), and the formulation of an international principle, sanctioned by a convention inviolate in character, which constitutes the basis for these societies (The Geneva Conventions).
In 1863, the charter for the “Committee of Five” was drawn up. The committee later became the International Committee of the Red Cross. Today, the Red Cross Movement comprises 187 national societies and more than 100 million volunteers, making it the largest volunteer-based organisation in the world.
The Cayman Islands Red Cross, an overseas branch of the British Red Cross, was founded in 1961 by Ethel Cook-Bodden, who was born and raised in Devon, England and came to the Cayman Islands in the early 1940s, with her second husband, Caymanian born Eric Cook Bodden.
Due to her husband’s serious illness, he was admitted at the Cayman Hospital for some time. Mrs. Ethel would visit him three to four times a day to bring him food that the hospital was unable to supply. The appalling conditions of the hospital at the time were immediately evident to her: “no food for the patients as there was only a derelict cooker, no kitchen equipment, no refrigerator, no crockery to speak of, no medical books and truly dreadful sanitary arrangements”.
After her husband passed away, she devoted herself to voluntary work, and with the assistance of the then Commissioner’s wife, Anne Gerrard, she organised the local Red Cross (then known as the Committee of the British Red Cross) and started fundraising for the hospital.
From their fundraising efforts, they were able to provide the hospital with a new kitchen, proper stove, buckets, brooms, saucepans, pails and crockery. Furthermore, the fund became responsible for hiring kitchen staff and checking on the state of sanitation in the kitchen.
The Committee’s other concerns included helping the small population to prepare for the annual hurricane season. Their duties expanded from building a small inventory of disaster supplies to assisting with the care of the patients in the hospital and fundraising for better healthcare facilities.
The Cayman Islands Red Cross has strengthened the foundations built by those pioneering volunteers and today has ‘Branch’ status, allowing it more autonomy to evolve to meet the changing needs of the most vulnerable in the country.
Public interest in Cayman Islands Red Cross was renewed in the devastation that following the passing of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. It is the largest volunteer-based organisation on island, with approximately 150 volunteers.
It runs four main programmes: Disaster Management, First Aid/CPR/AED and Water Safety Training and Coverage, HIV and AIDS Awareness and Education, and the Thrift Shop Community Outreach.
Volunteers are trained via the Red Cross University in a number of different courses, such as basic First Aid, shelter management, communications, quality control and HIV 101, among others. This streamlined training curriculum allows those joining the organisation to have a clear view of how to achieve certain goals, such as becoming a First Aid Training Instructor or National Intervention Team member.
Trained volunteers are key in developing organisational and community capacity. “Volunteers are members of the their community, and the skills that they learn with the Red Cross they will take with them to their homes, neighbourhood and workplaces,” explained Deputy Director Carolina Ferreira.
The Cayman Islands Red Cross is the most developed and active of the Overseas Branches of the British Red Cross, and one of the most active Red Cross Societies in the Caribbean Region, thanks to the hard work of its dedicated volunteer core.
The CIRC will be paying special attention to the youth and how to protect our young people. Starting in May, the CIRC will embark on a special first aid training project for teachers, which will enhance their school’s capacity in ensuring the day to day safety of our children.
The Disaster Management programme will also be going into the schools and will be engaging years 5 and 6 students via it’s Riskland Game – an fun and interactive tool which gets young people thinking about their roles in making their families and community more resilient to disasters.
The Red Cross’ “Protection starts here” campaign is a child sexual abuse awareness, education and prevention effort launched by the CIRC and its community partners in December 2012. It will continue its dissemination efforts throughout the remainder of the year.
All of the funds needed to keep the organisation running are raised locally, on Island, as the CIRC is financially independent from the British Red Cross Society. Along with funds raised from public first aid training courses and sales of items in the Thrift Shop, the CIRC also depends on the community’s generous support of events like the upcoming Dinner Dance Gala, to be held on 7 June at the Marriott Ballroom.
For more information, to volunteer, donate or purchase gala tickets, contact [email protected] or 949-6785 ext. 29.