World Humanitarian Day - saluting an inspiring spirit

On 19 August 2003, a suicide bomb ripped through the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

It killed 22 people, aid workers, including top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The date was subsequently designated World Humanitarian Day: a day to recognise those who face danger and adversity in order to help others, to honour those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service, and to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world.

It is a day to also remember that at the heart of humanitarianism is humanity, people from all walks of life working in some of the most dangerous places and conflicts in the world, reaching out to people in need, whether it is the 800 million people who don’t have enough to eat from one day to the next, or the 60 million people who are living as refugees or  are internally displaced in their countries because of war or persecution.

World Vision Australia plays a vital role working in complex international contexts, such as those that exist in Syria, South Sudan, Nepal and Sierra Leone, to name only a few.

Today, our thoughts go particularly to Syria and Syria’s children, who have been swept into the greatest exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago and the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. We think of the children of South Sudan, a country which has so quickly dissolved into conflict and famine, and the children of Nepal who were made homeless by the earthquakes of April and May.

Syria’s despair is approaching five years. In that time, 220,000 people have been killed, 4 million have fled to neighbouring countries as refugees, 7.6 million have been internally displaced, 12.2 million have been left in need of humanitarian assistance.

At least 70 international and Syrian national aid workers have been killed and more than 200 have been abducted. As of February this year, more than 30 were still being held captive.

TOP LEFT: Aid worker Michael Angkok reunited four South Sudanese orphans with family members. TOP RIGHT: Justus Koech takes time to hang out with a child in Kenya. BOTTOM: Crislyn Felisilda comforts a child in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan across the Philippines.

Earlier this year, World Vision child protection specialist Erin Joyce was at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, a bleak home to 18,000 refugees.

She left with a heavy heart, unable to answer the question so many aid workers are asked: “Why doesn’t the world care about Syria?”

This year’s World Humanitarian Day theme is Humanitarian Heroes and people are encouraged to share the story of a humanitarian with the hashtag #ShareHumanity.

Among our heroes this year, we count 803 burial workers trained by a consortium led by World Vision to conduct safe, dignified burials for Ebola victims in Sierra Leone. Working in a plague-like atmosphere of sickness and fear, members of the team went about their dreadful, but ultimately life-saving task despite being ostracised by their own communities and sometimes by their own families. It was with tremendous pride that they received the Bond International Humanitarian Award for “unacknowledged heroes”.

World Vision’s Ali Schafer, a senior program advisor for mental health and psychosocial support, had already called the burial teams “true heroes” in the fight against Ebola. In her diaries, written in Sierra Leone, she also a described a scene that underscores the hope that people carry with them even at dark times. On the road between Bo and Freetown, she wrote, a brightly painted truck hurtled towards her. As it drew near, she was able to see that a message had been painted on the front of the truck, where everyone could see it: “No condition is permanent”.

That phrase, ‘No condition is permanent’, embodies the spirit that defines World Humanitarian Day. Even in the midst of personal danger and uncertainty, there are millions of people, the majority of them national based staff, who believe that everyone deserves the right to life with dignity, that those impacted by humanitarian crises no matter what the cause have the right to have their voices heard. This year World Humanitarian Day celebrates those individuals who collectively make up a workforce parallel to none.

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