World Humanitarian Day (as bad as, but not at all the same as Humanitarian Day International) is one of those events that always makes me roll my eyes. To me the whole concept screams UN kitsch marketing that does more to mis-educate than it does to raise useful awareness. All we need now is a tradition of exchanging Hallmark greeting cards that play “We are the world” when you open them in order to make this a real holiday.
Nevertheless I will take this opportunity to remember a few humanitarians who have made impressions on me. Maybe you know some of them:
G___ ________ is an ethnic Tamil who worked for me in Singhala eastern Sri Lanka during the uncomfortable period between the end of the Tsunami response and the fall of the Tamil Tigers. He had an amazing ability to maintain good humor and do solid work, despite being detained – sometimes for hours – at almost every checkpoint between Kuchivelli and Colombo. He was once thrown to the ground at gunpoint for having a USB thumbdrive around his neck.
S______________ lost her life, years ahead of her time, driving home on a dirt road in rural Cambodia.
H_______ _____ braved the threat of bandits and landmines every day for more than three years, bringing veterinary extension services to his home district in Angola’s central plateau.
K___ _____ left his young wife and small child back home in Pakistan to go lead a transitional shelter construction team in Haiti. He spent over a year accomplishing an extraordinary amount under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and by the time he left was among the best-loved expatriate staff on the response team (and he’d probably find it amusing to think of himself as “expatriate”).
K__ ___ was repeatedly detained and “interviewed”, sometimes for hours at a time, by Vietnamese An Ninh during the three years that she worked for me in Hanoi. I never heard her complain, and she never missed a program deadline.
H___ _______ served as a program officer for an “American” INGO on a USAID-funded program in rural Yemen. At great personal risk and sacrifice she continues to lay it on the line for the women of her home district day after day.