7. November 2014

The price tag of doing good

„I would like to ask you all to rise and hold a minute of silence in memory of our colleagues…”

Minutes before I arrived at the train station in Geneva and now I found myself in the weekly staff meeting. The above words were some of the first I got to hear in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – my first stage of the Mercator Fellowship had just begun. These words were full of concern and worry for co-workers in extremely challenging situations – words I did not expect to hear right away upon my arrival.

How I desired to get to see this organization! The Red Cross is the prime address for humanity both in spirit and in practice. The ICRC is a neutral, independent organization. It is active to ensure humanitarian protection, it assists victims of armed conflict and it calls on all parties of conflicts to comply with international humanitarian law, with non-state actors in the jungle as well as in the White House. It is one of the most widely recognized organizations around the globe, having been awarded three Nobel Peace Prizes in 1917, 1944, and 1963. To give an idea about the dimension: Combined in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – including the ICRC, the Federation and 189 National Societies worldwide – are currently about 97 million active members, of which the vast majority is involved on a voluntary basis. The delegates of the ICRC visit hundreds of thousands prisoners each year and transfer an equal number of messages between separated family members. For a few months I am now part of the ICRC in Geneva. And I really appreciate the opportunity to be here, to see its work and to get to experience the staff members‘ mentality: Very experienced and committed people with both feet on the ground.

After three days in the organization, I saw myself confronted with another stirring encounter: A gathering for the delegate who was killed in the Ukraine right in front of the ICRC office in Donetsk two weeks before, after he got hit by shellfire. Dozens of staff members came to express their sympathy to the present relatives of the victim. The president of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, spoke words of condolence. Several thought crossed my mind: How must it feel for a mother to lose her son in such way? Does it help to know he spent his life for a good cause? Does it help to remember that his actions were of value to many? It reminded me of the price tag which comes with all things, also with doing something good. That nothing comes for free. The price tag of doing good in a conflict environment is being at risk. And the potential risk can turn out to be a real risk. In this case it ended lethal.

The gathering took place in the „garden of remembrance“, a place dedicated to the memory of men and women who lost their lives in the course of their humanitarian work. Whenever I pass by there I get reminded of the price tag. And I learned that it is worth within our busy schedules to pause for a moment from time to time. To hold a minute of silence and to realize the meaning of one’s own work.

photo: The ambulance in the organization’s courtyard in Geneva draws attention to the ongoing „Health Care in Danger“ campaign which is intended to improve the efficiency and delivery of effective and impartial health care in armed conflict and other emergencies. photo credit: Simon Mader