What Makes a Humanitarian Hero
With more than 11,000 staffers across the globe, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) may seem like a giant machine. And it is. Its logistical capacity and know-how make WFP a leader in the humanitarian field.
Each of these WFP staffers has a unique story to tell — and they’re not alone. WFP works with thousands of grassroots activists, volunteers, doctors, nurses, farmers and scientists in the field and they all share one thing in common: They’re committed to making hunger history in our lifetime.
Communications Officer Dina El-Kassaby (seen above, on the right) has been a part of the WFP family for four years. In that time, she’s seen the crisis in Syria unfold firsthand.
And yet, she somehow finds the strength to hold on to hope. Earlier this year, she wrote:
“Soon, this conflict will end and Syrians will come home to rebuild their lives and their country. I need to believe this to keep up the drive to serve. All of us must stand by the people of Syria and help them cope with the enormous difficulties they face so that they do not give up hope. I promise I will not give up.”
Some 2,200 miles away, Madame Gilberte Wadji runs an orphanage in Bangui, Central African Republic. When she opened the orphanage in 2007, she relied entirely on private donations. But when the current crisis in the country escalated, she welcomed WFP’s assistance: Lifesaving rations of rice, oil, SuperCereal, legumes and salt to support 36 hungry children.
The orphanage also supports an additional 155 orphans who are staying with foster families in various internal displacement camps within Bangui. The orphanage assists these children by covering some of their school fees and offering them daily meals from WFP.
In another part of the continent, field staffers like Pauline (seen above with WFP Logistics Officer Aaron Sleh) are making sure Liberia remains Ebola-free. Pauline works for the Bomi County Health Team, one of the many grassroots organizations working with WFP to contain the deadly outbreak. Pauline says WFP was quick to bring in food supplies at the beginning of the outbreak and has remained so ever since.
“It is hard to ensure that people remain observant of the quarantine when they need so many things: chlorine, medicines, baby food, soap, etc. There is need for a concerted effort to defeat the disease.”
Above, WFP Communications Officer George Fominyen speaks with Philippe Ochieng, who heads the satellite office in Mingkaman, South Sudan. They helped WFP and the agency’s partners reach nearly 1.3 million South Sudanese with food, livelihood assistance and emergency health and protection services in June 2015 alone.
Even though he’s seen malnutrition at its worst, Fominyen finds that his friends and colleagues make the best out of every situation. During a road assessment, he said:
“What struck me was the mood of the drivers and their assistants. Some were cooking on the roadside while others were digging a new road to allow vehicles to pass, all in a light-hearted mood filled with lively banter.”
In May 2014, WFP Country Director in Syria Matthew Hollingworth and WFP Regional Security Officer Ayman Omar helped move a cross-border convoy of 32 trucks carrying food aid — enough to feed 58,000 people for one month — and temporary, ready-to-install warehouses into northeast Syria during intense and dangerous access constraints.
Omar lost his life in a road accident following his field mission to Aleppo. He had been WFP’s head of security in Syria since 2012. In the months following his death, Omar’s colleagues have continued their relentless effort to get assistance to the families who need it most. As Hollingworth has said:
“We’d seen the faces of the people who were asking us to help them, asking United Nations to help them in their time of crisis, which is why we’re here.”
Coconut trees snapped in half. Flood waters over 30 feet deep. Communications towers demolished. Roads covered in debris. This is what WFP Country Director in the Philippines Praveen Agrawal saw when he arrived in Tacloban the morning after Typhoon Haiyan.
“It was unlike anything I could ever have imagined in my entire life.”
But in the year and a half since the natural disaster, WFP has reached some 3 million people with immediate and ongoing assistance. And gradually, life is returning to normal.
Our humanitarian heroes have seen the worst of the worst, but they’ve also seen potential and hope. It is because of their work that we continue to strive toward a world without hunger.
By Aliya Karim,
World Food Program USA