By Wojciech Dabrowka, Australian Civilian Corps register member
World Humanitarian Day, which we celebrate on 19 August, pays tribute to those aid workers who have given their time and in some cases their lives, to improving the world we live in. In the last ten years, more than 800 aid workers have been killed, and 1300 have been kidnapped or wounded. It’s no job for the faint-hearted.
As an humanitarian worker myself, the day is an opportunity to recognise and say thank you to those colleagues who have lost their lives or continue to work quietly behind the scenes.
My most recent work has been in coordination of relief work in conflict and natural disaster situations. Relief work is often life-saving—families have lost homes and livelihoods, access to basic social and health services has been destroyed, and people are counting on you.
For people and communities, the disaster isn’t over when the conflict finishes or the cyclone peters out. It is the lack of food and shelter, unsafe water, poor sanitation and crowded living conditions that kills. Establishing life-saving assistance—food, water, shelter, safe sanitation and health services—is the first priority. And safeguarding the dignity of those affected is equally important.
In my line of work, no two days are ever the same and I rely heavily on my broad experience. A crisis or conflict can frequently still be unfolding when the emergency response is being delivered, so dealing with the unexpected is part of the norm.
In this line of work, the capacity to connect with people is critical. It’s necessary to understand the situation and the needs of the affected people, and communicate effectively with beneficiaries. And there are the other donor and response agencies too. There are usually lots of national and international organisations with different mandates and people of different cultures and backgrounds all working alongside each other. It is the quality of these relationships that often determines, in great portion, one’s effectiveness in the field.
A big part of my work, in many different political and geographical contexts, has been negotiation and advocacy for humanitarian access. International humanitarian law states that humanitarians should be given safe and secure access to the victims of conflict and natural disasters. In reality, humanitarian access to those in greatest need is often very difficult or completely denied. Many aid workers continue to deliver assistance in very difficult and insecure conditions.
Over the last several years, I’ve worked with UN agencies on emergency assignments in Sri Lanka and Kenya and I’m currently on deployments through RedR Australia to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Northern Myanmar. All my UN deployments have been funded by AusAID.
I am now a member of AusAID’s Australian Civilian Corps (ACC) register. This means that I can be called upon to provide help to communities and countries after immediate life-saving work has been done and before the development programs are established. It is a critical time when the attention of the world moves elsewhere and people can find themselves trapped in poverty and despair without a vision for their future. I joined the ACC to make a positive impact, gain professional growth and direct exposure to challenging conflict and disaster affected environments.
So on 19 August I’ll be thinking of those whose work goes unnoticed by many, but whose dedication and support changes the lives of the world’s poorest.
World Humanitarian Day is a global celebration of people helping people, and this year’s theme is: “I Was Here”.
About the author: Wojciech Dabrowka
Wojciech Dabrowka has been deployed with UN Agencies on emergency assignments in Sri Lanka and Kenya for the last several years. He is currently on deployments through RedR Australia to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Northern Myanmar. Wojciech is also a member of the Australian Civilian Corps register which supports stabilisation, recovery and development planning in countries affected by natural disaster or conflict.