Overview of some of the largest organizations working for peace and freedom.
International Committee of the Red Cross
The Red Cross is one of the largest and most well-known humanitarian non-governmental organizations in the world. The organization was formed in Switzerland in 1863. It now has chapters in almost all countries in the world. The Red Cross assists all the victims of natural and man-made disasters, armed conflicts, and health emergencies regardless of nationality.
How It All Started
The roots of the Red Cross can be traced back to 1859. This was the year when Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, witnessed firsthand the bloody aftermath following the Battle of Solferino in Italy.
While traveling through northern Italy, Dunant saw the thousands of dead bodies that the bloody battle left behind. The battle was between the Franco-Sardinian and Austrian soldiers, and the bloody clash left more than 40,000 people dead, seriously wounded, or have gone missing. To worsen things, both sides did not have the supplies or training to treat the wounded, thereby contributing to the staggering death count.
In 1862, Dunant would continue advocating for the formation of a general relief group composed of trained volunteers. They would then assist with all who are wounded, regardless of which side they are fighting for and whether they are civilians or soldiers. In 1863, Dunant joined a Swiss committee that would eventually come up with a plan to establish said national relief associations.
Their group would eventually be called the International Committee of the Red Cross. As a symbol, the group used a red Greek cross set on a white background, which looks like an inverted Swiss flag. This is the way to easily identify the medics on battlefields, so they will not be caught in the crossfire between warring factions.
In 1863, the first Red Cross society started operations in Württemberg, Germany. The following year, 12 countries would sign on the Geneva Convention. This treaty called for the humane treatment of prisoners of war, and also extend the same courtesy to civilians who helped them.
Unfortunately for Dunant, his businesses experienced massive financial setbacks. In fact, it was so massive that he went bankrupt and resigned from his chairperson role in the Red Cross. However, Dunant did receive the very first Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to founding the biggest humanitarian organization in the world.
How’s It Going So Far
Today, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is still the largest humanitarian organization network. It still has not wavered from its original mission of alleviating human suffering, protecting people’s life and health, and upholding human dignity, especially in times of crisis.
You can now find at least one branch office of the Red Cross in almost every country in the world. There is even one in North Korea.
Contrary to what most people believe, the Red Cross is not just a single organization. It is composed of its International Committee, International Federation, Red Crescent Societies, and the more than 190 other individual National Societies.
Each of these groups has its own identity and roles but they are united by the 7 Fundamental Principles, which are:
- Voluntary Service
There are currently over 14 million volunteers working with the Red Cross in its mission, and not all of them are medical personnel. A bulk of the people volunteering their time at the Red Cross also do other tasks like:
- Manning telephone hotlines for supporting isolated communities
- Providing comfort and care for refugees
- Leading and organizing community health campaigns to teach people how to live healthier
- Organizing local youth programs
- Participating, within their capacities, in search and rescue efforts and to reunite families in the wake of disasters
Anyone can volunteer their time to the Red Cross. If you want to volunteer, you can easily find a local chapter where you can sign up.
World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen operates on a simple premise: when people are going hungry, you send in cooks immediately. This non-profit organization was the brainchild of celebrity chef Jose Andres when a disastrous earthquake shattered the country of Haiti. Chef Andres personally went into the frontlines and proceeded to hand out plates of actual home-cooked foods to the people in need.
How It All Started
Celebrity chef Jose Andres first got the idea to start the World Central Kitchen in 2010. Right after a disastrous 7.0 magnitude earthquake nearly wiped out Haiti from the map, Andres traveled to the country to help other non-profit organizations provide clean cookstoves to the people.
The following year, the chef joined the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which was a foundation recognized by the UN and was launched by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He worked for the GACC in the capacity of a culinary ambassador.
At the time, Andres was already chair in the DC Central Kitchen and a board member of several other NGOs. However, he did not find what he was looking for, which was essentially an organization focused on empowering and just feeding people.
He approached the other board members of the DC Central Kitchen and told them about his idea for a new NPO. He called it the World Central Kitchen, which is a hat tip to the DC Central Kitchen.
World Central Kitchen’s mission and focus are on four distinct areas:
- Social Enterprise
However, unlike other organizations offering global aid, World Central Kitchen does it with the help of chefs. There have been a lot of chefs that have been doing a lot of good work, and World Central Kitchen serves as a network that will link them all together.
How’s It Going
World Central Kitchen does not hesitate to go first to the frontlines, where they would provide warm meals in response to all kinds of crises. The moment they are needed, the WCK’s Chef Relief Team will immediately mobilize to the epicenter where they would start cooking for and feeding the people in need right away.
The WCK does not just dump food packs in troubled areas. Their chefs leverage local resources. By adapting quickly to their current situations, WCK could respond to multiple disasters at the same time, which often happens at opposite ends of the globe. The WCK partners with food manufacturers on the ground and activates their network of food trucks and/or emergency kitchens to start preparing food immediately.
How’s It Going So Far
Back in 2013, WCK established what it calls a “chef network”, which currently includes over 140 professional chefs from all over the world. Their vision is to turn this into a sort of “chefs without borders” program. This is where professional cooks can inspire positive change globally by using their skills, knowledge, and whatever resources they have regarding their professions.
The bulk of WCK’s work involves addressing problems with education, public health, creating jobs, and many other social enterprises around the world. The organization focuses mostly on creating working kitchens in as many public schools it can to ensure that the children are eating good food. In turn, this will encourage more children to attend classes.
WCK promotes health by teaching people about safe food preparation and also by installing clean cookstoves. They also help fight unemployment by creating culinary schools, which, in turn, further boosts the local hospitality and tourism industry and stimulates the economy.
Today, you will find volunteers for the World Central Kitchen in places where good food and hope were in short supply until they came.
The Mercy Corps is one of the world’s leading non-profit organizations. It aims to help people power through recent crises, improve their living conditions, and transform communities for good. The organization currently has more than 5,000 team members who were able to help almost 220 million people so far.
Mercy Corps uses a variety of interventions and programs, including emergency response and food supply instability. The organization also has programs that help empower vulnerable youth and cultivate people’s resilience in general. Thus far, the organization has been present in different locations all over the world, and they have been in 122 countries in total.
The Mercy Corps was originally called the “Save the Refugee Fund” back in 1979. The group’s primary goal back then was to provide firsthand aid right after the bloody Cambodian genocide when it was under the authoritarian regime of Pol Pot. Since then, the organization has expanded on its mandate to include delivering humanitarian aid.
In 1982, Ellsworth Culver and Dan O’Neill rebadged the group to the name “Mercy Corps” because they believe it better represents the organization’s broader international programs. The organization now focuses more on providing sturdy, long-term solutions for various developmental and humanitarian problems.
The Mercy Corps would proceed with the first of its development programs in Honduras during that same year. The success of this program then led to the founding of another NPO, Project Global Village in 1984.
The next ten years after its foundation, the Mercy Corps would again broaden its international reach. This time, it focused on setting up operations in strife-ridden countries like Haiti, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sudan, Congo, and even North Korea.
In 2004, Mercy Corps would incorporate into its ranks the Conflict Management Group, which was Ray Fisher’s company. A couple of years later, the organization incorporated Net Aid to increase its scope and youth engagement designed to fight against global poverty.
Mercy Corps’ have steadily gotten consistent with its structural and facilitating programs throughout the many years of the organization’s development. Some of the programs include developing lasting market systems, like the Resilient Communities Program established in Mongolia.
There are also immediate emergency response programs, like Mercy Corps’ relief efforts in Puerto Rico right after the country was battered by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Scandals and Bouncing Back
It has not all been smooth sailing for the company. There was one scandal involving Mercy Corps’ late co-founder, Ellsworth Culver, with allegations of abuse. In 2018, the board of directors hired a private investigation firm to look into the issue with an independent and external viewpoint.
It was alleged that the organization knew of Culver’s sexual exploitation of his own daughter since the early 90s. However, Mercy Corps still allowed him to operate in a high position within the organization.
In 2021, Mercy Corps published the results of an external investigation whose aim was to find out the extent of the supposed abuse perpetrated by Culver and his accomplices. The report also reviews what the then response of the Mercy Corps board was in 1992-93, which was when they were first made aware of the abuse. The report was made public, and can now be viewed on the organization’s official website.
Mercy Corps has been quite transparent with its dealings regarding this case and the organization. The current board is also doing its best to ensure that no such incidents were to happen again. Also, if similar issues do arise while in the process of investigating Mercy Corps, it will prioritize the survivors and provide them with the support they need.
Despite this scandal putting an indelible mark on Mercy Corps’ reputation, the organization is still going strong. The group continues to provide humanitarian assistance wherever in the world it is needed.
The International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that provides humanitarian, relief, and developmental aid. The organization was formed in 1933 at the request of renowned physicist Albert Einstein. Back then, it was known as the International Relief Association. The name change happened after the organization merged with the Emergency Rescue Committee in 1942.
The organization consists of thousands of emergency responders, philanthropists, health care professionals, humanitarian aid workers, and educators. Since its inception, the IRC estimates that the organization has helped more than 26 million people from different countries.
History and Origins of the IRC
The International Relief Association (the precursor to the IRC) was the brainchild of two progressive factions in Germany. Those factions are the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party Opposition. Its original purpose was to provide aid to victims of oppression by the state. However, when the Nazi party came into power in 1933, the organization was forced to relocate its head of operations to Paris, France.
The KPO originally consisted mainly of people from the “right opposition”, which were communists expelled by Stalin because they supported Nikolai Bukharin. Included in the purge was Jay Lovestone, the head of the American Communist Party. Lovestone was the one who formed the American branch of the International Relief Association in 1933, and one of those who joined his organization was Albert Einstein.
The IRA’s original mission was to assist displaced Germans who escaped the Nazi government. Later, the organization also started helping refugees from Italy and Spain.
By 1940, a group of European exiles together with liberal Americans who were close to FL Eleanor Roosevelt started the Emergency Rescue Committee. The aim of the committee was to provide aid to the European refugees currently trapped in France.
One of the ERC’s founding members, Varian Fry, went to Marseilles a couple of weeks after France surrendered. He then organized a small group that helped to pull people out of Nazi-occupied Vichy and into the United States and other allied countries. Fry and his group helped more than 2,000 individuals in just a little over a year, ending only when the Vichy French forcefully expelled him.
In 1942, the IRA and the ERC decided to merge and become the International Relief and Rescue Committee, and it would later be the International Rescue Committee. The organization’s funding generally came from the National War Fund. By the ’50s, the IRC has become a global organization that would often aid in the covert network functions of the CIA. It would also get embroiled between the volatile relationship of two nuclear superpowers, and the group would also participate in clandestine tactical operations.
The IRC now operates in 40 countries around the world and 26 key cities in the US. Here are some of the organization’s most recognized recent operations include:
- The 2010 Haiti Earthquake Response – One of the most notable recent achievements of the IRC includes their immediate disaster response to the deadly earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. The earthquake left more than 200,000 people dead, and hundreds of thousands more injured.
- The Bani Walid Massacre – The IRC also got involved in the Bani Walid massacre in Libya. The Libyan militia gunned down nearly a hundred young men who tried to escape conscription into the military.
- Continuing Aid to the Republic of the Congo – The International Rescue Committee is among the largest providers of assistance and humanitarian aid in the DRC. According to peer-reviewed studies, the IRC estimates that more than 5.4 million lives were lost since 1998 when the military unrest has greatly escalated.
These are just some of the many humanitarian programs that the IRC is currently doing. If you would like to volunteer or donate to this worthy cause, you can do so via its official website.
Americares is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization that mainly focuses on providing aid. This organization provides humanitarian services to people affected by natural or man-made disasters, health crises, poverty, and more. Americares addresses these problems by supplying medicine, supplies, and managing health programs.
Since 1979, Americares has provided at least $17B in aid to more than 160 countries. It mainly does so by helping restore communities ravaged by war or natural disasters.
How It All Started
Americares essentially got its start as a private citizen’s attempt to help because official aid took too long. It was April 4, 1975, when a US passenger jet took off from Saigon and crash-landed in a jungle. The plane carried a total of 242 Vietnamese orphans who were on the way to the US to meet their new adoptive parents. Sadly, a third of the children died immediately from the crash. Those who managed to survive were seriously hurt and in need of immediate rescue.
Here is the even sadder part, the US Pentagon announced that it would not be able to assist the site of the crash for at least 11 days. This did not sit well for a lot of Americans, and one of them was Robert Macauley, an executive working for the American paper industry.
Macauley arranged for a 747 to go to Vietnam and rescue the surviving children. Within 2 days, the children were all rescued and flown straight to San Francisco. Macauley had to spend a quarter of a million dollars of his own money. He even put his own home for a mortgage just to cover the costs. Because of his enormous desire to help people, Macauley did not mind almost going bankrupt.
Robert Macauley officially established Americares in 1979 in New Canaan, Connecticut. The headquarters would relocate to its current location in Stanford, Connecticut. In 1981, Macauley was tasked by none other than Pope John Paul II to raise funds for providing humanitarian aid for the people in Poland.
At the time, the country was under martial law. In less than a year, Macauley managed to airlift almost $2.4 million worth of medical supplies to Poland. This was the first officially-sanctioned mission of Americares.
Robert Macauley served as Americares’ CEO from 1979 until 2002, and he served as the chairman of the board until he died in 2010. In 1993, Americares was awarded as the “Best Charity in America” by Money Magazine.
What Are They Doing Now?
When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Americares provided emergency supplies to more than 400,000 people in New Jersey and New York. The organization distributed cases of bottled water, flashlights, blankets, and First Aid kits to the affected residents. Americares also provided post-emergency relief through their mobile medical clinics. They provided much-needed help to the local healthcare facilities that were unable to function properly due to power outages and storm damage.
Americares also helped the people of Haiti after the deadly 2010 earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince. In total, Americares has provided Haiti with humanitarian aid totaling more than $60 million.
The organization was also present in Fukushima, Japan in the aftermath of the Magnitude 9 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Americares sent more than $6 million in the form of humanitarian aid and medical supplies. The organization also helped in the restoration of medical clinics in the area and provided the survivors with psychiatric care.
In 2020, Americares quickly rose to the challenge to provide an immediate response to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has experience in responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases, including Zika, Ebola, dengue, and others. Americares delivered more than a million protective face masks for the medical workers in the US.