Humanitarians come in all shapes and sizes. They are the brave souls in danger zones protecting human lives at great risk to their own. They are the fired-up activists spreading the word in their communities. They are the coordinators overseeing vital ongoing programmes. They are the volunteers knee-deep in paper work to ultimately help improve the life of another.
The Concern team across the world – with over 3,000 staff members and thousands more volunteers – includes all varieties of inspiring, dedicated humanitarians. From reducing risks in disaster zones to ploughing through extra paperwork when emergencies strike, a handful of our team tell us what they do and why they do it.
Dom Hunt, Disaster Risk Reduction advisor with Concern, is sometimes one of the first of our team members on the ground when disasters, like the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, strike. While Dom, from Wiltshire in UK, participates in the Concern response to such catastrophes, his role goes far deeper than emergency response. Instead of just waiting for the next crises to happen, disaster risk reduction seeks to avert them, or at least lessen their impacts wherever possible, and be as prepared as possible for them so that our emergency responses are as efficient, timely and effective as possible.
Concern works in a lot of countries where there are multiple, often cyclical hazards that have catastrophic impacts on the extreme poor. During drought-driven food crises, for example, the poorest families can be forced to eat their seeds to survive, but this means they have no seeds for planting during the next season. Dom notes, “In this case we distribute seeds and tools but we also continue our long-term development programmes which address the underlying causes of food crisis so in the future, these people will be able to live here without our assistance.” He continues:
Ultimately, our aim is to do more and more to address hazards and to try to reduce the impacts of these hazards on the people that we work with and for.
For Claire Marshall from Dublin, Concern’s schools programme officer based in our Dublin office, a humanitarian is someone who wants to help improve lives and reduce suffering, regardless of where they are in the world. For two years now, Claire – who is a qualified teacher – has been travelling from classroom to classroom discussing issues such as climate change, trade, gender equality, poverty and hunger with young people. Through workshops and training sessions, debates and other activities, she and our entire Active Citizenship team are busy nurturing a nationwide community of young humanitarians, ready to take on the world!
Claire’s work ensures that young people in Ireland are aware of their place in an increasingly globalised world, and the impact they have on each other and on vulnerable communities that may seem very far away. She tells us, “Simple things like making sure the clothes we buy are produced ethically, recycling, composting or making sure the farmers who produce the coffee we drink are getting paid a fair price can have a massive positive effect on people living in very difficult circumstances.”
Young people are often accused of being self-absorbed or indifferent, but Claire disagrees:
I hate when people say that young people are apathetic and they don’t care. Young people have passion and through our work on active citizenship, Concern gives them the knowledge and skills to process difficult issues like hunger and gender equality.
For Angela Khonyongwa, programme manager with the Concern team in Malawi, work as a humanitarian involves overseeing a project helping to prevent malnutrition among vulnerable children in her home country. Originally from Blantyre in the south of the country, with Concern she is based in the rural district of Mchinji, where over half of children are not developing properly. Angela – a qualified nurse and midwife – manages our Support Nutrition Improvement Component (SNIC) project which works with the community to equip every mother and caregiver in the district with the skills, knowledge and resources to ensure their baby can develop healthily.
Angela and her team are seeing tangible results. She notes: “After three years of the project, we’re seeing an improvement in how mothers take care of their children – and themselves – with the skills and knowledge gained from our care groups.“
If we each play our part, however small it may feel, we know we can change lives of the mothers, children and those around them. All they need is a little help.
Many of Concern’s humanitarians toil far away from the frontline doing administrative work in the quiet corners of urban offices. Following her retirement in 2009, Delia Ryan, originally from Limerick, began volunteering her mornings in the Concern’s Dublin office post room, helping with archiving information and mail outs.
It may not be glamorous but work but Delia’s tasks are an important cog in Concern’s day to day operations, and nothing short of vital when disaster strikes. One of Delia’s first assignments came following the earthquake in Haiti when the pressure was on to send the call for support to the four corners of Ireland as quickly as possible. And she has been on hand ever since to support with any emergency or surge.
I feel privileged to be able to contribute even a tiny bit of help to the humanitarian work that Concern does.
And Concern is privileged to count Delia, Angela, Claire and Dom and thousands more among its vibrant community of every day humanitarians. Happy World Humanitarian Day 2016!