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Neither nun nor maid

At the museum

An exhibition that pays tribute to nurses and the nursing profession opened in January at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva. Eighteen months in the making, the exhibition artistically records nurses’ role in the first 30 years of the 20th century — an era that encompasses the First World War and the rise of nursing as a renowned profession. It was a time when contingents of female nurses flocked to the battlefields where men were slaughtering one another. They evoked images as diverse as mother, sister, friend, lover, guardian angel and army sergeant.

The exhibition also recognises the contemporary contributions of nurses who continue to exert a profound influence on the medical field. The current slo-gan of French nurses, “Ni nonne, ni bonne!” (Neither nun nor maid!) was taken as the exhibition’s title and captures the spirit of a century of humanitarian action. The exhibition features more than 500 period posters, postcards, drawings, paintings and photographs from 26 countries. A selection of nurses’ uniforms is also on display.

This exhibition, under the patronage of the ICRC, the International Federa-tion and the International Council of Nurses, re-mains open until 31 July 1995. A full-colour catalogue in English and French with contributions from nursing professionals is available at the museum.


“The Secret of the Pyrophone”

The Genevese section of the Swiss Red Cross has come up with an innovative way of introducing the humanitarian world to Swiss youngsters. In December 1994, the branch launched a comic strip, entitled The Secret of the Pyrophone. This comic strip, created by the cartoonist Excoffier Emmanuel (known simply as Exem), is based on the pyrophone, a gas-fuelled musical organ. This strange organ was originally invented by a friend of Henry Dunant. Dunant had tried to market the invention for his friend, and the comic strip, mostly fiction and fantasy, weaves this true-life incident into its story line.

The comic strip relates the adventures of Percelot, an intrepid detective searching for the secret of the flame-producing pyrophone. Working with the help of collaborators in the Geneva branch of the Swiss Red Cross, Percelot tries to uncover the secret life of Henry Dunant. It took Exem a year to create the strip since the project involved research and consultations with historian Roger Durand. Exem is a well-known cartoonist in Switzerland and has also worked in the field of public health.

“Our objective is to disseminate information about our activities, as well as to motivate young people to become interested in humanitarian action,” Jean-Francois Labarthe, Director of Humanitarian Affairs at the Geneva Red Cross, says. “We hope that this comic strip will encourage young people to adopt an attitude of solidarity with and openness to the world.”

The result is an amusing way to highlight many aspects of Red Cross work to adolescents who might otherwise be turned off by the biography of Henry Dunant. It certainly reveals a little-known side of the world’s first Nobel prize winner.

The comic strip, a 32-page, colour booklet, will be distributed free of charge to public school students between 15 and 17 years old. It will also be available in bookstores. Proceeds from the sale of the booklet will go to the Genevese section’s intercultural library for young people.


Latrines and literacy

Primary health care in Nepal

Tahun, a Nepalese village in the heart of the Himalayas, is about as far away from civilisation as you can get. There are few men here; because of the tough living conditions, many have left to join the Gurkha army and seldom – if ever – return. Most women are alone with their children. They work in the fields and try to care for their offspring and their households. All are desperately poor. There is no electricity, no running water, no public transport.

What better place, then, for the Danish Red Cross, in collaboration with the Nepal Red Cross, to launch a primary health care project? The project, which began in 1988 and is due to run until 1997, trains local women to identify health care needs in the area and advise other women in the community on ante- and post-natal care, family planning, prevention of infectious diseases, immunisation, cultivating kitchen gardens, maintaining a clean water supply, building latrines and other hygienic measures.

Poor sanitation in Tahun had been at the root of numerous diseases, particularly among children. The project nurse, Rebecca Ragaen, began by building a latrine for herself. She then selected female village health volunteers and traditional birth attendants to be trained at nearby health clinics. Before being accepted for the training course, each woman had to build a latrine near her own home to serve as an example for other villagers. Every trainee also received seeds to set up a kitchen garden to supplement her family’s meagre meals with fresh vegetables. Once they had completed their course, the trainees returned to their village to teach their new-found skills to female neighbours.

The project includes two other important components: adult literacy classes for women and drinking water schemes. Literacy is a basic but essential tool to access information and build self-confidence. Twenty-five women per class are taught to read simple books and do basic calculations for two hours each day for a six-month period. Hav-ing mastered these skills, women become very keen to obtain further information on health and sanitation, and they make an effort to sustain the knowledge they have gained through their efforts in the community, with the support of a local network and information material.

“We prioritise female literacy and train women to maintain water pumps,” says Gitte Gammelgaard, Danish Red Cross project consultant. “If we want the community to develop, special focus must be put on women, since women are the caretakers of the whole
family.”




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