Thursday, August 20, 2009

The heroes of the world

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..

Yesterday marked the first celebration of World Humanitarian Day. The date was chosen because it marked the sixth anniversary of the homicide bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad which killed 22 UN workers including former Human Rights Commissioner Sergio Vieria de Mello.

Humanitarian aid workers have always been in harm's way but they are suffering greater and greater numbers of casualties in recent years. This is not down to bad luck but rather to an intentional strategy by warring parties.

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, which at the time hosted one of the largest refugee populations in the world, I came in contact with and made the acquaintance of many humanitarian aid workers. I visited a refugee camp and it gave me some idea of the absolutely miserable conditions these aid workers labor under.

I've come to consider these people the heroes of Humanity. The majority of western aid workers are people who could easily have remained at home in comfortable, air-conditioned apartments in London or New York but have chosen of their own free will to go to the worst places in the world in order to feed the starving and heal the sick.

It's also worth remembering that most big aid organizations also rely heavily on domestic staff from the countries in question. These are people who could very easily and understandably flee the conflict in their land but choose to stick around and help people who would otherwise suffer in misery or die.

I can think of no more noble calling.

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