Humanitarians work in the world’s most dangerous countries, helping ordinary citizens ravaged by war or natural disasters find medical care, housing, and food. This critical but treacherous work comes with great risk. On Aug. 19, 2003, 22 United Nations staffers died when the organization’s Baghdad headquarters was bombed.
Since then, advocates have declared Aug. 19 World Humanitarian Day, a time to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in working for a better world: their lives. The day also offers an opportunity to celebrate the people who continue the often sweaty, dirty, and dangerous work of helping those world citizens who need it the most.
World Humanitarian Day celebrates the spirit of service that inspires people to selflessly work toward improving the lives of others.
Although the total number of conflicts worldwide has dropped over the past two decades, the number of people affected by those conflicts continues to rise, according to organizers. Estimates say around 51 million people globally have been displaced because of conflict.
The movement’s official website showcases profiles of standout humanitarians who inspire others with their bravery. The awareness day also helps to highlight the many countries where peace is only a dream.
Meet people like Mahmoud Deeb Daher who works with the World Health Organization (WHO) as the head of the Gaza sub-office. The former nurse now works on-the-ground, helping people affected by fighting receive health care. He says:
“We’re here because we want to alleviate suffering and allow for people to live in peace. This is what motivates me—to help every single day to make a difference.”
The situation in Gaza is dire. Many health facilities aren’t safe because of ongoing fighting. Daher tells the story of a nurse who underwent an operation to fix nerve damage and a torn muscle in her forearm. But in a war-torn country, there is no time for healing. The nurse went right back to work, taking care of her patients while nursing her body back to health at the same time.
And then there’s Jen Steele, an education advisor in Syria with Save the Children. Steele says children suffer the most in war-torn countries, many times missing meals, friends, stability, and continuous education, which can set them back for the rest of their lives.
Her work involves providing unaccompanied children with education, food, and shelter. Steele says:
“I’ve always believed in the importance of providing children with learning opportunities regardless of the crisis conditions they are dealing with.”
Humanitarian workers worldwide face considerable danger, but it’s all in a day’s work. World Humanitarian Day Aug. 19 honors their efforts.
When reading about all the problems facing the world, it can seem overwhelming. Often, the serious difficulties people face finding clean drinking water or even feeling safe in their homes at night put our own problems into perspective. But even then, we may think, what can we do to help? How can we alleviate the suffering of others?
Not to worry. You can take action right here at home, and some efforts don’t even require leaving your living room. Here’s how to get involved on World Humanitarian Day.
1. Social media
Social media has proven to be a powerful way for people all around the world to connect and share information that matters. Some people receive all of their news from social media, which means spreading messages through these channels impacts people who are difficult to reach.
The official World Humanitarian Day hashtag is #humanitarianheros. By uploading photos with that hashtag and adding a caption that explains the day’s purpose, you are helping to raise awareness and honor those who dedicate their lives to improving the world.
If you’re not sure what kind of photo to post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest, consider finding a photograph of your favorite cause from an official relief organization and reposting. This is fine to do as long as you give credit to the photo’s original owner.
2. Join the virtual community
World Humanitarian Day’s official virtual community is called Messengers of Humanity. By creating an account, users have the opportunity to access a catalogue of imagery to share on social media, complete with compelling figures to drive home the sheer need and the impact humanitarians have while helping.
Once you join the group, you’ll also receive email notifications a few times each month with special campaigns. The group makes it easy to share; the emails include pre-written status updates. All you need to do is click “share” and the message automatically posts to the social media accounts you have linked.
3. Participate in Arizona events
Local chapters of non-profits like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) host gatherings to honor World Humanitarian Day. IRC helps refugees to the U.S. find homes, health care, nutritious food, and education for their children.
Check back with the organization’s calendar or sign up for updates to receive alerts for other events throughout the year, such as World Refugee Day.
4. Get informed
The World Humanitarian Day official website has an array of videos to watch. Some films give you inside peeks at the lives of individual humanitarians while others offer higher-level insight into issues facing particular countries. Celebrity efforts to raise awareness are also catalogued, including a previous awareness day performance by Beyonce.
Also be sure to visit the organization’s official YouTube channel, featuring archived videos.
Get inspired by World Humanitarian Day and take action right here in your own backyard. Connecting to a community is good for your health and has been shown to reduce chronic pain.
Websites like VolunteerMatch.org help match prospective volunteers’ interests to available opportunities nearby. One possibility is to volunteer with the Red Cross, for example.
Many of these efforts take place in offices instead of in the field and only require a few hours each month. Your help may not be helping children in war-torn Gaza, but it does help make the world a better place.
Do you plan to participate in World Humanitarian Day?
Image by Julien Harneis via Flickr