Today is World Humanitarian Day, a day to honor aid workers striving to save and improve lives around the globe. In my travels throughout the year, I’ve met aid workers coping with incredibly challenging crises. My colleagues and I continue to be impressed and inspired by all that they do to help others. Thanks to support from the U.S. public and the Congress, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development are major funders of the work of humanitarians.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 19, 2014
Whether they are employed by or volunteer for UN agencies, the Red Cross Movement, faith-based or not-for-profit organizations, aid workers can spend a great deal of time away from families and friends and must manage without the comforts of home. They may find themselves up to their ankles in freezing rain and mud, as I witnessed at a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq last December, or sweltering in tropical heat in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Mali. Most aid workers are citizens of the countries in which they work and want to help their neighbors. They do not ask for much and are willing to sacrifice a great deal. I’ve seen how U.S. government and American private contributions can give aid workers the means to rescue and protect the world’s most vulnerable people. We honor those aid workers who have lost their lives.
Many aid workers live with the daily threat of being killed, shot, bombed, or sexually assaulted. Earlier this summer, I visited the town of Bunj, in Maban County, South Sudan. Ambassador Susan Page and I flew to Bunj, along with colleagues from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and South Sudan’s government, to inaugurate the wing of a hospital run by the North Carolina-based aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. It was a joyous occasion with speeches, singing, dancing, and crowds including the hospital’s staff, local people, and refugees from neighboring Sudan. A couple of weeks later I got word that six aid workers had been murdered there, probably targeted because they were from the Nuer ethnic group.
A couple of those killed were from Relief International, an American organization. “We have been devastated by the loss,” wrote Nancy Wilson, president of Relief International. “The only glimmer of good news was that…one of those who was reported killed [actually was able to escape and] arrived in Juba via UN transport. We are so grateful that he was protected by kind people in Maban.”
Meanwhile, in recent weeks American medical workers in West Africa were evacuated to the United States after becoming infected with the Ebola virus. Even as these Americans receive treatment, other aid workers were flying in to take their places.