Humanitarian Principles – I

Henry Dunant grew up in a family who cared for the well-being of others including orphans, people released from prison, those who were sick and couldn’t afford healthcare, and the poor. Henry carried on with the family tradition, but he was not as serious about his education.

Henry withdrew from college and decided to become an entrepreneur. He acquired the rights to a large tract of land in French-owned Algeria. He planned to use the land to start an agri-business. However, the water rights were not clear and he got little help to resolve them. He decided to appeal to France’s emperor, Napoleon III, who agreed to meet him in the city of Solferino in Italy.

Henry arrived in Solferino after a fierce battle had been fought. There were 23,000 soldiers lying on the battlefield, many severely wounded. Since there were no efforts being made to care for them, Henry organized the citizens of Solferino to help tend to the fallen. He paid for needed medical supplies with his own money. Care was given to all those who were wounded no matter the side they were fighting for.

Henry was shaken by his experiences in Solferino and wrote a book about what he saw with recommendations for treating the wounded in battle. Henry and four other prominent men met in Geneva to discuss the implementation of his recommendations. Their first meeting in February 1863 is now considered the date of the founding of the Red Cross. A year later, 12 countries met to agree to principles regarding the treatment of the wounded and captured in battle. This agreement is known today as the Geneva Convention, and it remains a generally accepted approach of the humane treatment of those wounded or captured in battle.

Henry’s business suffered during his humanitarian efforts. He declared bankruptcy, and he was reviled as a corrupt businessman. His friends turned against him. Henry was impoverished and living on the streets as a beggar. He disappeared from society for 20 years. He eventually ended up in a hospice where he was rediscovered. The world finally paid him the honor he deserved including the first awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize.

When Henry died, according to his wishes, there was no formal ceremony. He was buried in a pauper’s grave. The money given to him from the awards he received was left to humanitarian causes.

How many of us could put the betterment of society above our own well-being? Hidden heroes often make those sacrifices.

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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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