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by Sr, Ese Idogen MMM        Nigeria           08.06.2022

Marie Martin in her VAD uniform 1915 resizedJust recently, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement celebrated its one hundred and fifty-nine years of foundation. I decided to look through the pages of some of the national societies on the internet. When I opened the page of the British Red Cross, a question popped “did your ancestor volunteer during the war?” ‘Oh yes’ I said proudly to myself. She did! Marie Martin did!

During the First World War, over 90,000 people volunteered with the British Red Cross. They were known as the Voluntary Aid Detachment. They nursed the sick and wounded. They transformed homes, school buildings and town halls into temporary hospitals. They drove ambulances, they sought for missing persons, they wrote letters, and they did so much more!
Young Marie aged 23 applied and trained as a VAD. Life was difficult in Malta. It is hard to write about the perfect daily job schedule for Marie. Her work ranged from tending the wounds of soldiers, scrubbing and cleaning and even writing letters to the families of the wounded soldiers. When she came back home, she was not the same person, she was radically transformed. There is something about kindness!

Marie Martin was not the first. Remember the Swiss Gentleman, Jean Henri Dunant. He experienced the aftermath of the battle of Solferino in modern day Italy in one of his business trips. He organised aid work, helping the wounded soldiers and, when he came back, reflected on what he experienced and shared in his book “A Memory of Solferino”. He proposed the formation of voluntary relief societies in all countries for the prevention and alleviation of suffering in war and peacetime, without distinction of race or creed. His questions and proposals gave birth to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863. The man who went for a business trip was not the same man who came back. He was transformed!

Now, every May 8th the International Red Cross movement all over the world celebrates its foundation and remembers Henri Dunant. The theme for this year’s celebration was tagged #Be HumanKind. Psychologists say that performing acts of kindness harness the power to promote compassion, improve your health and build relationships. When someone experiences or witnesses a kind act, they in return want to do something kind; it is called a ripple effect. I remember very well, long time ago, I was still a child. I was sitting, watching the news with my mother. I saw a group of Red Cross Volunteers rescuing ship-wrecked victims in a very turbulent situation. I can still see it. I was thrilled and I said aloud, “I wish I was one of these volunteers”.

Kindness does have a ripple effect; it transmits and transforms. When we are kind, we inspire others to be kind as well. When I eventually joined the Red Cross years later during my service year in Northern Nigeria, I experienced life differently from what I was used to. I shifted from my comfort zone. I never did any heroic act like Marie Martin, Henri Dunant or those volunteers I saw on television years ago, but I learnt something. I learnt to be kinder.

During our first profession ceremony, the homilist said, and I can still hear him, “you are choosing to be religious in a broken world; give the world your tenderness”. There is a lot of brokenness in the world. War, conflict, killings, pain, depression, family life is continually threatened; mental health has become a global issue. In times like this, we can choose to be healers in our own little ways. A little act of kindness is like drinking cold water on a very sunny day.

Acts of kindness are never little. We can grow to be kind by choosing to be kind. Little things matter. Do something for others and you will see how your life will be transformed as it did for Marie and Henri Dunant. Volunteer for something good, listen with compassion, give a smile, send a note of appreciation, hold back that sarcastic word, help the old lady cross the street, give a pat on a back, pet an animal, tend the plants, do something for another. Send that ripple!!!

Thank you, Ancestors, for sending your ripples of kindness throughout humanity. Thank you Henri Dunant for sharing your memories and help give birth to the Red Cross, thank you Marie Martin for choosing to volunteer and giving birth to the Congregation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Thanks to all who continue to inspire us to be kinder with their acts of kindness.

Why not you too? #Be HumanKind!!! I hope you had a good Red Cross Day?

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