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Clara Barton and the American Red Cross

Many, many years ago, a clerk in the US Patent Office by the name of Clara Barton spent her time caring for the wounded soldiers during the American Civil War. She was also a key player in locating thousands of soldiers who were classified as “missing,” and became known to all as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her selfless and never-ending work. Once the war ended Ms. Barton had the opportunity to visit Europe and learned about a movement called the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention, a program that treated many of the wounded soldiers. It was expanded later on to include civilian war veterans and also prisoners of war.

Upon her return to America, Barton began to lobby the US government in hopes of ratifying the Geneva convention. She accomplished this goal in 1882. Before that, in 1881, Barton had founded the American Red Cross and was the leader until she retired at the age 83. Under her leadership the American Red Cross was significantly involved in disaster relief, responding to many areas that needed assistance, particularly flood, tornado, forest fire, and hurricane stricken areas. An epidemic of yellow fever was another of the causes that the Red Cross responded to. When she retired, the American Red Cross had only a few thousand widespread members, but grew exponentially over the next few years.

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U.S. Government Alliance

By forming a relationship and alliance with the US government, and by informing potential volunteers that it was considered their “patriotic duty,” membership continued to grow rapidly.  Once World War I ended the membership had swelled to well over 32 million, 11 million of those members being comprised of children and young adults. Joining the Red Cross was considered so important to the war effort that a public official in Wisconsin was tried and convicted under the Espionage Act because he considered the members to be “nothing but a bunch of grafters,” among other things. Apparently, not everyone was enamored of the newly formed American Red Cross.

In present times, offering assistance to wartime service and disaster relief remain the prime focus of the organization. The mission of the Red Cross is to educate every man, woman, and child about health and safety procedures, and to offer support for families who have military members. Blood donation is also a top priority for the Red Cross, and they hold Blood Drives in most communities a few times each year. Volunteers are urged to donate their blood and to recruit as many donors as possible so supplies never run out. Blood is one of the most important components in any disaster relief effort, and the Red Cross is determined to have the supplies remain as high as possible at any given time.

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Volunteering for the Red Cross

Working or volunteering for the Red Cross is not without its drawbacks, and at times the Red Cross has been the target of criminal acts. Several masked men shot and killed six Red Cross aides in 1996 when they were assisting in a Chechen hospital compound. Attacks of a similar nature occurred again in the 90’s and early in 2000 in Bosnia, Somalia, Burundi, and Somalia even though international law makes it illegal to target humanitarian workers. Unfortunately, the condition of this world make it an almost impossibility to guarantee the safety of the Red Cross workers in hostile countries. You can be assured, however, that people will still line up to become members and volunteers in the American Red Cross. It is an organization that continues to reach out to disaster-stricken areas, offering support and resources whenever needed.

I’m sure every man, woman, and undoubtedly some children have heard of the Red Cross in America, but I wonder if everyone actually knows what that Red Cross symbolizes, or what the organization does?

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