This week the Royal mail released a very special set of six stamps – each features a different British humanitarian who has devoted their lives to helping others.
And we’re delighted to announce that our founder, the pioneering Eglantyne Jebb, is one of humanitarians to be honoured.
She’s been chosen alongside Nicholas Winton, Sue Ryder, John Boyd Orr, Joseph Rowntree and Josephine Butler – women and men who devoted their lives to challenging poverty and inequality, and standing up for the most vulnerable people in society.
Jebb’s humanitarian work started after the First World War when she and her sister, Dorothy Buxton, joined the Fight the Famine movement to help children in eastern Europe. She was soon arrested for distributing leaflets in Trafalgar Square.
At that point, she could have had no idea that her call to save children facing famine in eastern Europe would be the start of an international movement that would spread across 120 countries over the next century.
Today, the organisation she founded saves millions of lives each year.
But maybe those who knew her wouldn’t have been so surprised. According to reports Jebb known for her passion, courage and tenacity.
In less than a decade, from 1919 to 1928, she made a huge impact on the humanitarian landscape. Here are just three of her incredible achievements.
1. Changing perceptions, saving lives
When the Russian famine hit in 1921, hundreds of thousands of children’s lives were at risk.
The Save the Children Fund set up by Jebb and her sister two years earlier had already raised thousands of pounds to help children affected by the post-war blockade of eastern Europe. But funds began to dwindle under criticism from media outlets and others saying money was needed at home, and questioning the scale of the disaster in Russia.
Jebb responded by stepping things up a gear. She sent well known press photographer George Mewes from the Daily Mirror to get first-hand footage of conditions facing children in Russia, and the work Save the Children was doing.
The resulting film – a powerful and unprecedented glimpse into the unfolding emergency – was shown at private screenings around the country. In an era before TV news, it made a huge impact.
After one showing, the Daily News reported: “No advertisements, articles, verbal or printed appeals could have produced such an overwhelming impression upon the audience as did the staggering realism of these pictures.”
The film appeal raised £6,000 to feed Russian children, helping to fund a ship filled with 600 tons of aid. As a result, from the winter of 1921 through to much of 1922, Save the Children and its partners were able to provide daily meals to 300,000 children and more than 350,000 adults.
2. A truly international alliance
Jebb’s early appeals for funding showed her that – however efficient and well-coordinated – the emergency relief work she was doing could only ever provide temporary help.
She said: “[Save the Children] must not be content to save children from the hardships of life – it must abolish these hardships; nor think it suffices to save them from immediate menace – it must place in their hands the means of saving themselves and so of saving the world.”
By 1920, Jebb’s ambition had grown to reflect this sentiment. She wanted to build: “A powerful international organisation for child saving which would extend its ramifications to the remotest corner of the globe.”
And so, the Save the Children International Union was founded. Within five years it had 40 committees around the world and had raised £4 million to help children in 30 countries – including the UK.
Early projects focused on health, nutrition, education and housing, among other issues. From the beginning, Jebb insisted that aid should be delivered in partnership with local organisations. This, she felt, would enable communities to remain independent and promote a more equal approach. She said: “Help should not be a gift from above but rather aimed at self-help between equals.”
Today, Save the Children continues to operate with and through local partners, and 97% of our staff work in their home country. Now the world’s largest independent organisation working for children, we remain driven by our founder’s powerful vision of ending poverty and giving every child the chance to fulfil their potential.
3. Championing children’s rights
Many people might not know this – but Jebb established the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
She had to push hard to have her version of the declaration – in which upholding children’s rights was the responsibility of all adults, not simply the state – adopted by the Save the Children International Union in 1923, and the League of Nations the following year.
Jebb said: “I believe we should claim certain rights for the children and labour for their universal recognition, so that everybody – not merely the small number of people who are in a position to contribute to relief funds, but everybody who in any way comes into contact with children, that is to say the vast majority of mankind – may be in a position to help forward the movement.”
The declaration Jebb wrote became the foundation for today’s United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) that has been signed by 194 nations.
Today, we’re still working hard around the world to tackle poverty, disease, discrimination and exploitation, and these fundamental rights underpin everything we do.
The UNCRC lets us hold governments and organisations to account for the way they treat children. It guides communities in ensuring children are protected and respected. And, perhaps most importantly, it shows children themselves that they have the right to have their needs met and their voices heard.
You can read more about Eglantyne Jebb’s life and achievements in Clare Mulley’s biography of her, The Woman Who Saved the Children.