In this segment of Centric Commemorates, Natalie Bullock and Marcie Stoshak-Chavez share their experiences and perspectives about World Humanitarian Day.
Part of our Centric Commemorates series.
In 2014, I walked through a Syrian refugee camp outside Beirut, Lebanon ducking in and out of dark tents and stepping over rivulets of muddy water to greet people waiting to receive a delivery of rice.
They were only a small subset of the 13.5 million Syrians displaced by war at the time and an even smaller subset of the 235 million people worldwide who will need humanitarian aid in 2021. That’s 1 in 33 people worldwide who need help and relief.
Often when we think of refugees, we picture people who had very little from the start – people in need of food, clothing, shelter, and basic healthcare. Yet the Syrians I met in 2014 were professionals: lawyers, consultants, doctors, teachers, small business owners, and humanitarian aid workers themselves. These were people, who until just a few weeks prior had owned houses and pets, had hobbies and favorite restaurants, were sports fans, had families, and had vacations planned. People like me or you. People who, because of the political or economic situations of the region, suddenly had no home to go back to and no relief in sight. People who, for the first time, needed food, clothing, shelter, and basic healthcare.
Today, as we celebrate World Humanitarian Day, established to honor the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello – who was killed in an August 19, 2003 bomb attack in Iraq – we remember those who have routinely put themselves in danger and even given their lives to bring relief to their fellow human beings suffering in crisis from war, starvation, pestilence, and climate change. From our places of peace, we raise awareness for those less fortunate and those valiantly striving to bring them help and hope.
–Introduction by Natalie Bullock
Thinking about World Humanitarian Day stirs up many emotions for me. For thirty years, as a practicing Emergency Physician at a Level One Trauma Center in a highly urban setting, I experienced and watched almost daily acts of selflessness, kindness and caring among my colleagues who provided care to those in need, regardless of their situation.
Although this was on a local scale, it sparked several of our emergency medicine residents to further their education and experience by pursuing training through International Medicine Fellowships. They have become my heroes over the years as I watch them continue to provide care for those in need all over the globe and educate future generations as well.
One of my ER residents, Mike Van Rooyen, even went on to serve as the co-founder of an organization, The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Founded in 2005, this organization has grown to collaborate with multiple relief organizations and educate those who have a passion for providing this humanitarian work.
So, on this day, I honor those who generously provide care to those in need – and education for those on the frontlines, whether locally, nationally or globally and particularly during this unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic.
Through these stories, we’ll seek to learn, understand, and empathize. We’ll celebrate our differences and realize that though we have varied backgrounds and perspectives, we are one team.