World Red Cross Red Crescent Day 2014

Today, Thursday May 8th 2014, is World Red Cross Red Crescent Day.

Everyday most of the seven billion people in the world are touched by the Red Cross and Red Crescent without even realizing it. Almost everyone – or someone they know – has donated blood or received a first aid tip or been visited by a volunteer, perhaps not knowing it was their local Red Cross or Red Crescent in action.

More than 17 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and 80 million members interact with friends, families and neighbours the world-over. Their service has a positive impact on the lives of every member of their community. They serve in places like hospitals, schools, community centres and gatherings, sometimes directly in peoples'homes – all the while providing life-changing and at times life-saving services.

"People instinctively want to contribute and give. This has been part of human nature throughout history," said Bekele Geleta, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "There is a humanitarian in each of us, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent creates a space where people mobilize together to amplify the impact of their good work."

"The size, outreach and grassroots work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer network across the world are simply unique," said Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "Wherever I go, people have stories to share with me about people they know in our Movement."

Almost everyone has a Red Cross or Red Crescent story. Here are a couple of stories.

My Red Cross Story -- President Tadateru Konoe

As a small child I was evacuated to the countryside. This was in World War 2 when the atomic bomb would soon be dropped on Hiroshima. I sometimes wonder: how many of my friends and neighbours did the Red Cross help in those times? I am sure countless. My own personal journey began with the Red Cross a few years later. I traveled in Europe after university and one day found myself in Geneva with no place to stay. I took a chance and knocked on the Japanese ambassador's door asking if I could stay the night. He said "yes," but only if I would take part in the World Red Cross Red Crescent Day parade the next day. He needed someone who could wear the large size kimono he had. Being six feet tall, I was the only person that fit the kimono! The parade was extraordinary; the solidarity and spirit of togetherness to serve all of humanity regardless of race, creed or colour was inspiring. I went home and volunteered for the Japanese Red Cross. More than 50 years later, I am still humbled to serve the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

My Red Cross Story -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

My Red Cross story starts in the dusty rural village where I grew up in war-torn Korea. Thanks to the American Red Cross, I was given the opportunity to join teenagers from 42 countries to travel across the United States visiting Red Cross chapters.

The trip opened my eyes to the world. I returned to Korea a different person. In the newspapers and in my village, I was a bit of a celebrity, and became known as the boy who went to America!

But the trip was also a turning point on a deeper level. From small towns to the White House Rose Garden, where we met President John F. Kennedy, I was profoundly moved by the spirit of service. When President Kennedy told us, "there are no national boundaries; there is only a question of whether we can extend a helping hand", I resolved then and there to pursue a life of public service.

My Red Cross story continues today with the fruitful partnership between the United Nations and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Our organizations share common values – solidarity, mutual respect – and together we brave danger to uphold them. In crisis spots around the world, we work together to save lives, protect human rights and promote dignity. Our world has changed much, but the Red Cross remains as meaningful as ever.

My Red Cross Story -- 2012 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine / Director, Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University Dr. Shinya Yamanaka

I am truly grateful for the cooperation from the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS), which made me get closer to realize one of our center's goals to achieve by 2020.

Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), where I am serving as the director, is working on the creation of an iPS cell stock with an advance guarantee of quality for use in regenerative medicine. iPS cell technology can be applied to medical treatment development and to cell-based regenerative medicine. However, nuclear reprogramming and cell differentiation needs a long process. Thus, it is important to produce and store quality-assured iPS cell clones in advance for medical treatment by using blood and skin from donors. The iPS cells are distributed to other research or medical institutes that will differentiate them into functional cells for transplantation therapy.

But it had been a big issue for us to seek the donors with certain human leucocyte antigen (HLA) types that are less likely to lead to immune rejection following therapy using iPS cell technology.

Thanks to the JRCS, which is the only organization in Japan collecting and supplying blood for use in transfusions, now we are able to recruit and ask for more of the donors easily and effectively.

The passion toward my research has something in common with Red Cross Movement. – It is the strong will, hoping to "save lives of people".

Closely collaborating with the JRCS, I am committed to continuing with steady and focused work to bring us little toward realizing safe iPS cell-based regenerative medicine for patients in need, as rapidly as possible.