The Red Cross is one of the best-known brands in the world. During the past year, I have discovered how diverse associations it brings to mind for different people. Some think of alleviating human suffering in developing countries: starving children, natural catastrophes, and war. They are surprised to learn that the Red Cross has lots of domestic activities both in Finland and the US. For others, the Red Cross may be a synonym for blood collection or first aid training. They may not be at all familiar with the strong international link. The range of activities by national Red Cross societies is indeed very wide. In addition to humanitarian aid in armed conflicts and natural disasters, they have taken on additional humanitarian tasks that vary greatly by country.
This post summarizes the five “business areas” of the American Red Cross, and compares those to the activities of the Finnish Red Cross.
1) Disaster Relief: The American Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the US annually. The disasters range from home fires and traffic accidents to hurricanes and earthquakes. Working in close cooperation with government agencies, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services to help families and entire communities get back on their feet. Right now the American Red Cross is helping out in responding to the horrible Oso mudslide. The Finnish Red Cross provides similarly emergency assistance in domestic disasters and accidents.
2) Lifesaving Blood: Similarly to the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service, the American Red Cross collects, processes and distributes blood and blood products. 132,000 people donate blood through the Finnish Red Cross annually, and nearly 4 million through the American Red Cross. The Red Cross market share is 100% in Finland and about 40% in the US, making the American Red Cross the nation’s largest blood collection organization. The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service also maintains the Finnish Stem Cell Registry (previously Bone Marrow Donor Registry) that contains the details of people who have volunteered to donate blood stem cells to a patient needing them, like someone fighting leukemia. In the US, a similar registry is kept by a nonprofit called Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP). Nonetheless, also that program took off from an American Red Cross office in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the late 1980s.
3) Preparedness, Health and Safety: For many Finns, first aid training is one of the best-known activities of the Finnish Red Cross. The American Red Cross offers an even wider selection of educational programs on preparedness, health, and safety. Naturally first aid, CPR and AED classes are offered, and also pet first aid courses are available! Additionally, the American Red Cross trains for example lifeguards and babysitters. Babysitter training is taken care of by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL) instead of the Finnish Red Cross. However, the origins of the Finnish Red Cross and MLL are actually intertwined. As a curiosity, I need to mention that the minimum age for MLL babysitters is 16 years, whereas the American Red Cross targets 11-15-year-olds. Here the babysitter training includes topics such as leadership skills and styles, as well as CV and business card tips! The American Red Cross puts a lot of effort also in the emergency preparedness of homes, schools and workplaces. This topic deserves a separate post in the near future.
4) Service to the Armed Forces: The Red Cross movement originated around the need to help wounded warriors. The American Red Cross continues to support military members, veterans and their family members by offering them communications services, comfort, and training how to prepare for, and deal with the challenges of military service. For example, in case of death or serious illness of a family member, or birth of a military member’s child, the Red Cross will deliver the military member a notification no matter where he or she is deployed. Fortunately there is currently no need for most of these services at the Finnish Defense Forces, but the Finnish Red Cross cooperates with the army in many ways. For example, the conscripts are an active blood donor group.
5) International Services: The American Red Cross works with the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network to respond to disasters, and build safer communities globally. It deploys disaster experts to the field when necessary, mobilizes relief supplies, ranging from blankets to hygiene supplies, contributes financially to support the local purchase and delivery of relief supplies, and reconnects family members that have got separated by war or disaster. Educating the American public on international humanitarian law is also an integral part of the activities. The international relief and development programs of the Finnish Red Cross resemble a lot those of the American Red Cross.
The operations of the Finnish Red Cross cover also a few areas in which the American Red Cross is not involved. One of these areas close to my heart are the so-called volunteer friend visitors. The Finnish Red Cross acts as an intermediary between volunteers who want devote their time in visiting people who might otherwise feel lonely and those looking for additional human contact and support. The volunteers spend time with elderly people, youth, disabled persons, recovering mental health patients, immigrants, and inmates. Also my voluntary work at the Helsinki Mother and Child Home was a part of this program. Another additional major effort by the Finnish Red Cross is coordinating the Voluntary Rescue Service which is in a critical role in supporting authorities in search-and-rescue operations.