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Red Cross - Protecting life and dignity

To explore the origins of the International Committee of the Red Cross (SEAL theme: Empathy).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the origins of the International Committee of the Red Cross (SEAL theme: Empathy).

Preparation and materials

  • None required, but you may like to download some copyright-free images from the Internet of the many contexts in which we see the Red Cross’ logo and have the means to show them in the assembly. Also, you could download ‘We want peace’ by Emmanuel Jal (see YouTube video featuring Alicia Keys and others) and have the means to play it as the students leave at the end of the assembly.


  1. It’s not easy to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s awarded once each year and previous winners include Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, The fourteenth Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet, one recipient has won the prize on three occasions. It’s an organization rather than an individual – the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  2. Its symbol of a red cross on a white background is one of the most recognizable logos across the world. It means protection, rescue and neutrality, particularly in war situations. Displaying this red cross allows medical staff to go on to the battlefield itself and care for the wounded and the dying. Opposing forces recognize the symbol and cease firing.
  3. It was in October 1863 that the International Committee of the Red Cross was formed in Geneva, Switzerland. The prime movers in its formation were a Swiss businessman, Henry Dunant, and a Swiss lawyer, Gustave Moynier. Dunant travelled throughout Europe because of his work and had found himself in the Italian city of Solferino at the time of a battle between Austrian and Sardinian forces in 1859. He was horrified at the carnage he witnessed, with 40,000 soldiers killed or wounded in a single day, bodies strewn across the battlefield and no one to see to the injured. Immediately, he organized local people to care for those who were still alive. On his return home, he wrote a book about his experiences and advocated the formation of a neutral, international medical relief organization that could intervene in such war zones. Gustave Moynier read Dunant’s book and rallied his influential friends in the city of Geneva. So it was that the Red Cross was formed. Henry Dunant was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as an individual.
  4. The Red Cross was joined in 1919 by the Red Crescent – a parallel organization with its roots in Islamic countries. Together they have intervened in wars and disasters throughout the twentieth century and are at work around the world right at this moment – in Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan, for example, training local people in medical intervention and encouraging peace initiatives.

Time for reflection

The Red Cross plays a unique role. Its members see conflict and head towards it, not to encourage the fighting, not to stand and gawp, not to take sides, but to protect the lives and dignity of those who have become involved, both willingly as fighters and as innocent bystanders. Members of the Red Cross are neutral. They support neither side. Their sole aim is to reduce suffering.

Let’s try to bring that home, to consider conflict in this school community. 

We have plenty of conflict going on. Much of it is verbal. Occasionally it becomes physical. (You may wish to make reference to a specific incident.) How do we react? 

I know what I’ve seen and heard. There have been loud words of encouragement and support for each side. There have been threats about what will happen in the future. Reinforcements have been called in from inside and outside the school. Gang loyalties have been invoked. Those who refuse to get involved have, at best, simply stood and watched the entertainment.

I’d like to encourage some ‘Red Cross action’ within this community. I’d like to see some courage from those who cringe at the pain they see. I’d like to see some positive action for peace among us. What might that mean? 

It might mean words. It might mean actions. It might mean sympathy and empathy. It might mean encouragement. It will certainly mean resisting the temptation to take sides.

I’d love to say that your interventions will be recognized and you’ll be awarded a peace prize. Sadly that’s unlikely, but it will make you feel good that you’ve actually done something to bring peace about.

Dear Lord,Thank you for the message of peace you’ve given us in Jesus.May we each seek to protect life and dignity where we are.


‘We want peace’ by Emmanuel Jal (see YouTube video featuring Alicia Keys and others)

Publication date: October 2013   (Vol.15 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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