The Cayman Islands Red Cross, set up in 1961 to help raise funds for the George Town hospital, is marking its 60th anniversary this year.

Since being founded by Ethel Cook-Bodden, the Cayman Islands Red Cross has grown to become one of the most dynamic Red Cross branches in the region, its current director Jondo Obi said.

During the coming months, the Red Cross will hold a series of events as part of its #PaintCaymanRed campaign.

In the early days, under Cook-Bodden’s leadership, the organisation focused on fundraising for the hospital, beginning with ensuring that it could be equipped with a kitchen and kitchen staff to take care of patients’ needs. Fundraising efforts then expanded and the organisation raised enough to purchase the first ambulance for the island. It also assisted the community in preparing for the annual hurricane season.

Over the years, the local branch of the Red Cross has grown and now runs four main programmes: disaster management; first aid and aquatics training; child protection and sexuality education; and the Thrift Shop.

Cook-Bodden was born and raised in Devon, England, and moved to Cayman in the early 1940s with her Caymanian husband Eric Cook-Bodden.

In 1959, Cook-Bodden was one of the first women to run for office in the Cayman Islands.

She and three other women appeared on the ballot paper that year, although none were elected.

Cayman Islands Red Cross founder Ethel Cook-Bodden, pictured here receiving a floral bouquet at a Red Cross event, passed away in 1993. – Photo: CIRC

After her husband became ill, she would visit him in hospital several times a day, bringing him food that the hospital was unable to supply. She wrote of the state of the hospital: “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”.

When her husband died, she devoted herself to volunteer work and with the help of community stalwart Janilee Clifford and Anne Gerrard, Commissioner Andrew Morris Gerrard’s wife, she organised the local Red Cross committee and started fundraising for the hospital.

Cook-Bodden passed away in 1993, leaving behind a legacy of a growing and dynamic local Red Cross.

COVID challenges

The past year has been one of the most challenging for Red Cross organisations across the world, as they aided in COVID-19 responses, including providing assistance and supplies to medical personnel, and delivering food and non-food items to the most vulnerable within the community.

Here in Cayman, Obi said, Red Cross volunteers and staff managed the national COVID-19 volunteer training and deployment, provided support to numerous community efforts, assisted the Health Services Authority with management of quarantine facilities and supported them in COVID-19 testing. They also helped coordinate the national mask-making initiative across all three islands to provide frontline personnel with much-needed PPE during the global shortage, and disseminated youth-friendly messages to help children better understand key concepts of health, hygiene and prevention during the pandemic.

Jondo Obi, director of the Cayman Islands Red Cross, is inviting the public to get involved in the 60th anniversary celebrations.

“We know that things have been incredibly difficult for the last year,” Obi said. “We know of the struggle that many are facing because we see it everyday. Our aim with the 60th anniversary is really to engage the community, wherever it is that they are at.

“The COVID pandemic really reminded everyone just how essential volunteers are, and how far the community spirit can take us collectively. We want to hang on to that a little longer, and we want to celebrate those things because it speaks to who we are, not just as the Red Cross, but as Cayman.”

The 60th anniversary community engagement campaign, #PaintCaymanRed, was officially launched on 1 May, and will run for one year. The Red Cross is encouraging businesses, schools, community groups and individuals to find ways to do things for or with the Red Cross.

“We have had some events already take place prior to the official campaign launch,” relationship and communications manager Ayala Felner Hananel said, “and people are very excited to get creative with the ideas. We have had #TeeForRed at the Ritz, DineForRed in partnership with Zest and West Indies Wine Club, and several organisations have signed up for #DressDownForRed in May.

“There are thousands of things which people can do to engage with the campaign, and while we appreciate the support from the community when it comes to fundraising ventures, we are equally as excited by efforts which positively impact the community, be it via #LearnWithRed or #BeKindForRed.”

History of international Red Cross

Henry Dunant at the time of the Battle of Solferino. – Photo: ICRC

Saturday, 8 May, is World Red Cross/Red Crescent Day, a commemoration of the birthday of Henry Dunant, the Swiss founder of the Red Cross movement.

The Red Cross movement has its roots in a battlefield. Dunant, a businessman, was travelling through the northern Italian town of Solferino in June 1859 on his way to try to meet the French emperor Napoleon III. The French and Sardinians were fighting imperial Austria and the battle of Solferino had just finished.

According to the archives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, some 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were lacking medical attention. Dunant organised local people to bind the soldiers’ wounds and to feed and comfort them.

On his return home, he wrote a book about his experience, called ‘A Memory of Soliferino’, which was published in 1862. He called for the creation of national relief societies to help the war wounded, and pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions.

“Would there not be some means, during a period of peace and calm, of forming relief societies whose object would be to have the wounded cared for in time of war by enthusiastic, devoted volunteers, fully qualified for the task?” he wrote at the time.

According to the IFRC, “The Red Cross was born in 1863 when five Geneva men, including Dunant, set up the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, later to become the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its emblem was a red cross on a white background: the inverse of the Swiss flag. The following year, 12 governments adopted the first Geneva Convention; a milestone in the history of humanity, offering care for the wounded, and defining medical services as ‘neutral’ on the battlefield.”

How to get involved: Individuals, community groups, schools and businesses that wish to join the #PaintCaymanRed 60th Anniversary celebration campaign can contact [email protected] or visit the Red Cross site here.

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