By Patrick Fuller, IFRC

After a journey of almost ten years, a major milestone was reached on May 8th, World Red Cross Day, as the Bhutan Red Cross Society was formally inaugurated by Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan. The event took place in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu in the presence of, the Bhutanese Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay and Annemarie Huber-Hotz, Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies and President of the Swiss Red Cross, local dignitaries and regional representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross  and IFRC

In her address the Queen paid tribute to Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

“We now become part of a global movement that is as resilient as it is dynamic. The true and enduring spirit of this Movement remains the motivation that its founder experienced more than a century ago – that is, a deep compassion for the suffering of humanity and the selfless motivation to alleviate it”.

The Queen also made reference to how the seven fundamental principles of the Red Cross resonated with Bhutan’s own guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness, which places human welfare as the most vital objective of the Government.

“It has, as our National conscience, guided our Kingdom to build a society that places collective well-being above oneself and inspires us to serve humanity with kindness, integrity and strength of heart”, she said.

The formation of the Bhutan Red Cross Society was partly driven by Annemarie Huber-Hotz,  President of the Swiss Red Cross and former Swiss Chancellor, who in 2008 initiated discussions with leading establishment figures in Bhutan around the formation of a national society.

In her speech at the inauguration event Ms. Huber-Hotz conveyed a message of solidarity.

“Everywhere for Everyone is the theme for this year’s global Red Cross Red and Crescent Day celebrations. It is in this spirit that the Movement warmly welcomes Bhutan Red Cross Society. We also look forward to adding another global voice and capacity to our Movement and most importantly to learning from your Society and from Bhutan.”

The formation of the Bhutan Red Cross Society began in earnest in July 2015 when an eight member working committee was established with the blessing of the King. Comprised of the Deputy Chamberlain to the King, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce and senior members of the Police, Armed Forces and Ministries of Disaster Management and Health – the Committee developed the Red Act which led to the legal recognition of the Bhutan Red Cross Society by the Government.

During the inauguration, Tashi Wangmo, Member of the National Council and Chair of the Working Committee stressed how the spirit of volunteerism was both the essence of the Red Cross and also very much part of Bhutanese tradition. She explained the two key elements that will be distinct to the Bhutan Red Cross Society; its territorial coverage, which aims to be nationwide, and the premise upon which the Society will be formed, its volunteers and membership base which will be built on a bottom up approach.

“As an auxiliary to the government, the Bhutan Red Cross Society will be the front-line service provider in the areas of disaster management, health promotion, and social services. All these services will however, be delivered through the support of trained volunteers in communities”, she explained.

In the coming months the Bhutan Red Cross Society will focus on recruiting members and volunteers, on further developing its programmes and activities and preparing for a first general assembly before the end of the year. Besides ongoing support from the Swiss Red Cross, the newly established national society will also be receiving regular technical guidance and support from both the IFRC and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).   It is hoped that the Bhutan Red Cross Society could seek formal recognition by the ICRC by 2019 and subsequently apply for membership of the IFRC.