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Jean Henri Dunant ( 1828 - 1910 )  Category ( Humanitarians ) [suggest a correction]
 

Henry DunantHenry Dunant was born Jean Henri Dunant in 1828, Geneva, Switzerland. He is best known for writing a book that inspired the creation and development of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and subsequently being awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize, along with Frederic Passy. Despite his strong and enduring interest in helping others, Dunant was born into a family of prominent businessmen. His family was wealthy and influential, but they used their power and money to help others, and so Dunant grew up in that tradition. His parents worked hard to help orphans, released convicts, and the poor and sick.

As a teenager, Durant founded what was known as the "Thursday Association," a group of young men who met to read the Bible and assist with the needs of the poor. Then, in 1852, he founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA. Three years later he traveled to Paris to assist in founding the YMCA chapter there. He stayed so busy helping others that he neglected his studies, and was asked to leave college. He went to work at a Swiss bank instead.

After a visit to Algeria, Tunisia, and Sicily, he wrote his first book, which was part travel guide, part treatise on the treatment of the poor and sick. Upon his return to his homeland, he began working on developing a company that would help foreign colonies to develop business and industry. When local officials in those colonies refused to cooperate with him, he appealed to Napoleon III, who agreed to assist. Dunant later wrote a book in honor of the Emperor. He arrived in Solferino to present the book himself, and arrived on the day of a great battle, which resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries.

Dunant had never witnessed battle before, and the experience shook him. He took it upon himself to organize assistance for the dead and suffering, and worked with civilian populations on both sides to encourage cooperation for the sake of human rights. Upon his return to Geneva, Dunant began writing his famous book, Un Souvenir de Solferino. Though it had a limited print run and Dunant had to pay for the publishing himself, the book made a huge impression with those who were in a position to make a difference in the treatment of those in need. The culmination of talks in Geneva resulted in the creation of the International Red Cross.

Dunant was a freemason, an organization whose roots are found in the history of the Knights Templar. The red cross was the symbol of the Templars. Throughout his life, Dunant continued to write and advocate for helping the poor and needy. In 1901 he was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize for his role in helping to found the International Red Cross Movement and in initiating the Geneva Convention. The official congratulations he received included the following comments:  "There is no man who more deserves this honour, for it was you, forty years ago, who set on foot the international organization for the relief of the wounded on the battlefield. Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century would probably have never been undertaken."

Later, Dunant was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Heidelberg. During his final years he suffered from depression and paranoia due to his financial situation and the hounding of his creditors. Even in his final days he remembered the poor, and he donated funds to maintain a "free bed" in his nursing home that would always be available to a poor citizen. His birthday, May 8, is celebrated as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day.


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