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Good morning, this is Pascal, at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, where I took over the reins last year.

Today I want to tell you about the first time I visited the imposing United Nations office in Geneva after applying to become a lecture guide, about crossing thresholds and making new encounters, and why this is important in recognising humanitarian action in our everyday lives.

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Pascal Hufschmid,


Humanitarian issues are part of everyone's daily life

Photo article

Dignity trampled underfoot, by artchitect Gringo Cardia on display at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum (Photo: MICR/ Alain Germond)

It was a spring day in 2003. I remember checking at which stop to get off before taking bus number 8 to the United Nations for the first time. An art history student at the time, I had entered a selection process there to become a lecture guide. I went through the security gate and took the marked path to the meeting place, a few minutes away. I was nervous. I admired the park and the huge buildings.

I had been living in Geneva for a few years, but this site was virtually unknown to me as I had only ever seen it from a distance before. That day, I was to discover a whole new district of my city. I was about to plunge into its intense international activity, but as I entered the imposing historic building, I wondered if I really belonged there. I have never forgotten this feeling, which is probably shared by many people whether or not they have lived in Geneva for a long time. The Nations district is indeed impressive. Its large international organisations can make you feel very small, all the more so as they are difficult to access on a daily basis behind their security protocols.

Should you be parachuted in from abroad and caught up in its daily frenzy of work, getting outside the cocoon to discover the city’s other neighbourhoods and local culture cannot be self-evident. That may be a valid observation, but I've never been satisfied with it. Rather, I see the immense potential for encounters and exchanges between people from all walks of life, both local and international, who perhaps lack a place and opportunity to get to know each other better.

I often think about this whilst making the same journey I did back in 2003, now every day and on my bike. I have recently taken over the reins of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, a wonderful institution and totally unique. I see it as an ideal space for such meetings and exchanges in the heart of international Geneva. Through everything we set out to do, my colleagues and I have taken the first step towards breaking the ice by asking a central question: how does humanitarian action concern us all, here and now? Mainly viewed through media coverage, it can easily seem dissociated from everyday life. Although often making the headlines, it’s just one piece of news amongst many transmitted via a device (screen, newspaper, radio) which can be turned off and put away. It can thus give us the impression that humanitarian action is deployed elsewhere, far away, and that it only concerns others.

Yet, humanitarian issues are part of everyone's daily life in various degrees of intensity. The pandemic and climate change, to give just two examples, are disrupting our lives here in Geneva as well as everywhere else. Above all, humanitarian action is born out of deeply personal and lived experiences. These are neither abstract nor the prerogative of a few insiders. At 9:00 pm every evening this spring, it was indeed based upon the principle of humanity that we all applauded from our windows here in Switzerland. So, how can we promote a more nuanced and embodied understanding of humanitarian action?

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Anticipatory reads by GESDA

How Iceland is hammering Covid-19 with science. At a time when science in general, and the most recent science and tech advances in particular (like gene technologies), is observed with skepticism and suffers from a lack of recognition – if not of credibility –, the tiny island nation has made very clever efforts, basing its actions on science, to fight the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic. Not a surprise as one of the major and most innovative companies active in genomics, deCODE Genetics, is based in this country, which is very open to cutting-edge research and, in 2015 already, has constructed a complete and detailed picture of the country’s genomic profile.

With respect to Covid-19, “we’ve been committed for a long time to take everything we learn about human disease and publish it, says Kári Stefánsson, the founder and chief executive of deCODE genetics. There is no way in which we would have not utilized the opportunity.” Here is what he, and his team, have done and learned.

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This selection is proposed by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator GESDA, working on anticipating cutting-edge science and technological advances to develop innovative and inclusive solutions for the benefit of the planet and its inhabitants.

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