Help the Helper

Photo from The Borgen Project.

Last
night, amidst the sound of Antonov planes hovering above South Sudan, amidst
the buzz of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and the hiss of potent black mambas, I
dreamt I was in a  peaceful place in the
mountains of Tajikistan—still doing humanitarian aid work but in a more
relaxed, cool, serene environment, away from the violent tribal clashes and
threats of a looming war. In that dreamful state, I saw myself catching
butterflies in the meadows, but the next second I was looking through the
barrel of a Kalashnikov pointed at me.

This
morning, BBC World announced the demise of Dr. Khalil Dale, a humanitarian aid
worker working for ICRC (Red Cross/Crescent) in Pakistan, who was abducted in
January and eventually beheaded yesterday in the same town of Quetta where he
was kidnapped. It was supposed to be Dr. Dale’s last mission before his
retirement. The 60-year-old medical doctor worked tireless in conflict- and
war-torn areas with one thing in mind—to help and protect the vulnerable.  But who really is vulnerable now?

It is
quite disturbing to read and hear about aid workers being subjected to direct
intimidation and violence especially when on field missions. I work in the
field, and every single day I live with the fear of being harassed or abducted
or killed, simply because I’m an aid worker. Last year, a colleague from the World Food Programme (WFP) was shot dead here in Bor as he was giving training to help
feed malnourished kids. Also last year, two staff from MSF (Doctors without
Borders) were abducted in a refugee camp in Kenya. A few weeks later, a
man and a woman working for Danish Demining Group were kidnapped in Central
Somalia. This is on top of other forms of violence that aid workers are
regularly subjected to. The result? Some organizations pull out their staff and
suspend activities that could potentially save thousands or even millions of
lives.

What
has this world come to? In 1999, the United Nations reported 30 humanitarian
worker deaths. This has risen to 102 in 2009, in addition to 280 victims of
security threats. God knows what the statistics is like in 2011!

Around
the world, thousands of aid workers risk their lives to deliver basic
life-saving services such as food, water, shelter, medical care, and protection
to the most vulnerable in high-risk environments.

Aid
workers operate on principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and
independence.  We may be opinionated, but
we don’t take sides. We may be feisty, but we don’t carry guns. Some of us
might not believe in an Almighty God, but we believe in humanity. Some of us
may look aloof, but we reach out to communities that no ordinary citizen will
ever dream of going. And the only protection we have are the logos of
organizations we represent and the faith that people around us will keep us safe because of
what we do. Yet, why are some of us still being intimidated, abused, abducted,
killed? We can no longer operate without fear.
If
humanity cannot respect and protect the very people who risk their lives in
order to save others, then we are in for a big catastrophe, bigger than the
drought in the Sahel or the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami in Aceh—much,
much bigger than we can ever imagine.
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