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Red Cross

These three activities look at what the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is, how it began and how different parts relate to each other.

Enjoy finding out more...

Learning objectives

By the end of the activity students will be able to:

  • say who they would help first on the scene of a road accident, and why.
  • explain how the International Committee of the Red Cross would respond if detainees they visited reported inhumane treatment.
  • describe what Red Cross volunteers at the scene of a fire would do if a family refuses to leave their unsafe house without their pet dog.

Red Cross quiz

For a quick entry into what the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is all about, try this fun quiz. Thinking through the answer options stimulates discussion. That creates effortless learning about what is distinctive about the Movement.

Download the quiz powerpoint.

Road accident involving a car and a cyclist© Info

1. Someone trained in first aid by the Red Cross is on the scene of a road accident. Who do they help first?

a. The innocent party, leaving whoever caused the crash till later.
b. The ones who are making the most noise, especially anyone screaming loudly.
c. The ones who are quietest.


Port-au-Prince after the Haiti earthquake© Info

2. Reports are coming in of a major disaster overseas. Details are sketchy. What does the British Red Cross do? 

a. Gets straight on the case, within hours sending emergency teams with the standard disaster kits.
b. Nothing. It's outside the UK, so none of its business.
c. Tells the relevant authorities that it is on standby to offer assistance that may be required.


Man with arm round woman watching a fire scene, Gloucester, Britain © Info

3. A local fire and emergency support team has been called out following a house fire. The family will not leave the unsafe home unless they can bring their dog. What do the Red Cross volunteers do?

a. Tell them not to be silly and explain that people are more important than animals.
b. Say, no problem. This happens a lot and their support vehicles are well equipped to cope with all kinds of pets.
c. Call for back-up from the British Red Crossbreeds, an emergency dog service that can take the animal to a place of safety.


ICRC delegate speaks to a detainee at Monrovia central prison, Liberia© Info

4. Delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross have visited detainees held as prisoners of war. They have been told of inhumane conditions that may breach the laws of war. What do they do?

a. Raise the matters confidentially with the authorities and work with them privately to make life better for the detainees.
b. Report the alleged breaches to the international criminal court for immediate prosecution.
c. Take photographs of shocking conditions and circulate them to newspapers for maximum publicity.


Ambulance used as part of the British Red Cross response to 7/7 attacks in London© Info5. There has been a major incident in the UK, with loss of life and many people injured. The emergency planners call on British Red Cross volunteers for help. What tasks might they be given?

a. Carrying out surgical operations by the side of the road.
b. Staffing reception centres and transporting patients between hospitals to make space for those injured.
c. Providing compulsory counselling for anyone deeply affected.


Answers: 1c, 2c, 3b, 4a, 5b

Once you've done the quiz and discussed the answers, you should be getting a picture of the kind of organisation that the Red Cross is. Try to draw out these points, which describe why the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement exists and how it operates:

  • To provide care in a crisis and to reduce suffering
  • To provide services to those who need them, non-judgementally, neutrally and impartially – that is, without regard to race, politics, religion, or anything else.
  • To listen to what those in crisis say they want, not decide in advance what they need.
  • To support the main emergency services, not to try to do their work.
  • To achieve change through persuasion and negotiation in private, not through public exposure.

Red Cross storyboard

Church collection appeal poster, 1915© InfoThis sequence of sentences explain the origins of the Red Cross in the wars of 19th century Europe. It is an intriguing and extraordinary story. You could just read it, in assembly perhaps, or give it to students to read. But it is also designed for students to work with. They could present it as a drama or series of tableaux. It could form a storyboard for a video they could make. Or it could become a graphic story with cartoons drawn by students. Or they could select just one sentence and turn it into a poster.

The photographs available in a powerpoint can be used for inspiration, accompanying illustration or incorporated as central elements of students' production.

  1. This true story begins during a battle. The date is June 1859. French and Sardinian forces clash with Austrian troops as part of the war of Italian unification. Soldiers and conscripts of all nationalities are fighting at Solferino in northern Italy.
  2. Fierce fighting left thousands on the battlefield wounded and dying. The weapons of the time – cannonballs, muskets, sabres and bayonets – created terrible injuries.
  3. Many of the wounded were left to die where they fell. A few were carried to field hospitals, where surgeons tried to save them, often with basic equipment and amputations.
  4. The horror shocked a Swiss business man, Henry Dunant, who was travelling in the area around Castiglione. He watched parts of the battle and saw the state of the many casualties. He stayed to help, and to organise the help he saw others trying to provide.
  5. This was desperately needed. Dunant said that there were six French army doctors to treat the 9,000 wounded soldiers who had taken refuge in Castiglione.
  6. Amid the cruelty and suffering of war Dunant also saw simple acts of kindness and sympathy. Soldiers shared rations, offered drinks to enemy soldiers, bound their wounds and showed good will to prisoners.
  7. Dunant gathered a number of women volunteers who helped the wounded. They provided food and drink, washed and dressed wounds. The number of volunteer helpers grew. Some helped to write farewell letters to the families of dying men.
  8. The helpers followed Dunant's example by treating everyone equally, whatever their nationality. "Tutti fratelli", the Italian-speaking women of Castiglione repeated as they worked. In English, "all brothers".
  9. The help provided may not have saved many lives. But it did bring comfort and relief. Offering water to desperately thirsty men, treating wounds, soothing infected limbs, made the last hours of the dying more bearable.
  10. A 20-year-old soldier who had a bullet in his left side and was dying asked Henry Dunant to send a message to his parents. They later told him that was the only news they had about what happened to their son.
  11. A wounded soldier kept asking for someone on the hospital ward to bring letters from his family that were waiting for him in the local post office. No one did – and he died without the comfort that the letters might have brought.
  12. Dunant came to believe that volunteers were better at providing comfort and care than paid workers. There were many more of them, and if they were keen, trained and experienced, and their efforts supported, they made a real difference.
  13. Dunant also believed every country should have a society of organised volunteers able to care for wounded soldiers during conflicts. This big idea of Henry Dunant sparked a lot of interest when he told it to influential groups and leaders. So did his plan for an international treaty to ensure humane care of the wounded. Societies were set up, in Geneva, Switzerland and in other countries.
  14. It was quickly realised that the lives of those providing medical attention to the wounded and sick might be in danger on the battlefield. So, to mark them as non-combatants, it was agreed that they could wear a white armband emblazoned with a red cross.
  15. The red cross has no religious significance. It is the reverse of the Swiss flag – which is white on a red background. Just to avoid misunderstanding, the societies in Muslim countries were approved to use a red crescent.
  16. The new organisation was called the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. But someone had the bright idea of calling it the red cross society – which was easier to remember.
  17. There are now Red Cross or Red Crescent societies in virtually every country of the world. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a crucial role in ensuring that conflicting parties follow humane laws of warfare. The Movement's aims have grown and developed, but always remained true to the principle of reducing suffering that motivated Henry Dunant.

Then and now

Try matching the origins of the Red Cross with the Movement's work today.

Below are three of the fundamental principles that underpin the modern International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Think about each one and relate it to some element in the storyboard above of the origins in the 19th century:

  • humanity – it is about preventing and reducing other people's suffering.
  • impartiality – it provides help on the basis of need, not discriminating according to nationality, race, class, religious or political beliefs or anything else.
  • voluntary service – it harnesses the power of volunteers whose motivation is the desire to carry out humanitarian acts, not any financial gain.


These materials were first published in May 2012. They were reviewed in May 2013.


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