Sunday, 27 April 2014

In the red

With Anzac Day behind us, it's fitting to contemplate what happens when the battle has been won or lost.

What of the soldiers and of those who have been displaced by war?

For more than a century, this question has invariably been answered by the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Entering the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
This organisation has become such a regular background feature of wars and disasters that you almost don't see it anymore.   Yet without it, it's hard to imagine how communities would regroup and rebuild.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva charts the history of this global organisation and it's almost enough to restore my faith in people (almost).
Helping those who need it most

The genesis of the Red Cross started when a Swiss businessman Jean-Henri Dunant witnessed the gory aftermath of war in 1859.  Responding to the lack of organised army nursing systems and institutions to treat those wounded in battle, the idea of a voluntary humanitarian organisation was born.

Dunant also called for international treaties to guarantee the protection of neutral medical and field hospitals for soldiers wounded on the battlefield.  This led to the first Geneva Convention.

Given the depth and breadth of conflicts and disasters the Red Cross has been involved in, this museum adopts a different, experiential approach to tell its story.  This is probably just as well; documenting every incident it has been involved in would require a much larger building, possibly the size of Geneva itself.

The museum's "The Humanitarian Adventure" creates three distinct spaces that sum up the organisation's vast body of work: Defending human dignity, Reconstructing family links and Reducing natural risks.

Defending human dignity, with its graphic representations of wounded soldiers and human suffering, is the most confronting of the exhibits. It uses projections and technology to tell the age-old story of human rights literally being trampled.

Defending human dignity

However it is the exhibit of small gifts made by prisoners of war for their Red Cross case workers that is the most touching.  Often a Red Cross representative was the only contact POWs had with the outside world and the only ones checking to see they were being properly treated, so many POWs created gifts of gratitude with the limited resources they had at hand.

Gifts made by POWs for their Red Cross case worker

Reconstructing family links continues the tale, documenting how families torn apart by disasters are brought back together.   Here, row upon row of index cards dating from WWII (each card representing a person searching for loved ones) highlights how the mammoth task of reuniting families across war zones is done.  While computers may have stepped in, the job of reaching out and collecting each individual's details remains the same.

Index cards from WWII that were used to reunite families

Rather than a depressing jaunt through more than a century of people mistreating others or falling victim to natural disasters, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum left me surprisingly upbeat.  Perhaps it's comforting to know an organisation like the Red Cross exists.

It's fitting that a short distance down the road from the museum stands the Broken Chair Monument, a wooden sculpture of a giant three-legged chair.   Directly across the road from the UN's Palace of Nations, it symbolises the opposition to another legacy of war, land mines.

The Broken Chair Monument

No comments:

Post a Comment