Nobody seems to know how many muscles it takes to smile. Some sources say 17; others argue that it’s around 12. But within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, rumor has it that it’s over 7 billion. Or, the hard-working minds and muscles of more than 12 million staff and volunteers.
Every day, they work with people facing the worst moments of their lives - crises, war and disaster. They are the first responders and frontline ambassadors of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The growing strength and reach of our global network is because of people like them: around the world, in dangerous and unstable places, neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action has the best chance to reach those most in need. If we can ever claim to be everywhere for everyone, it will also be because of people like them.
On World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, we want to voice our gratitude for their work, and our indebtedness to their service.
Doing what they do isn’t easy. Today, humanitarians are subject to more threats and attacks than ever before. Every year, tragically, we lose Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers. Every year, we are haunted by the empty spaces they leave behind, and the words of gratitude that they will never get to hear.
Still, our staff and volunteers keep going. They work in increasingly protracted crises, with extremely complex dynamics. They know that the people they serve are no longer in tough situations for a couple of months, but for years. And still, they accompany them. From urgent, life-saving assistance, to recovery and resilience programmes, they are there.
They are in Zimbabwe, training farmers on keyhole farming – an agricultural system that allows crops to withstand harsh conditions like droughts or floods. They are in Bangladesh, providing women and girls with solar torches, culturally sensitive clothes, and hygiene items to prevent isolation, including during menstruation. They are in Costa Rica, training dogs to rescue people from collapsed structures or landslides. They are in Syria, where after multiple attempts, 46 truck convoys, bearing thousands of food parcels and medical supplies, finally made their way civilians in Eastern Ghouta. They are in Gaza, offsetting power outages by providing people with portable batteries to charge their phones and emergency lights.
These stories are full of innovation and originality. They also show how much the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is working to put people at the centre of humanitarian action. Our staff and volunteers are supporting communities to become agents of their own recovery and resilience. They put their expertise at the community’s disposal so that the community itself can become stronger for the long-term.
In many ways, they’re trying to work themselves out of a job – and it is that kind of selflessness that we treasure; that shared passion, across so diverse a crowd that makes our Movement so unique. To those who say that humanity is dead: we’ve got 12 million examples of why you’re wrong.
And that’s definitely something worth smiling about.
President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
President of the International Committee of the Red Cross