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The humanitarians fearless for children

18 August 2023, Impact of Our Work

Reaching children with lifesaving assistance and protection when they need it most

Millions of people around the world are living in crisis, whether in conflict or other disasters – and they need our support. At the backbone of our emergency response are our humanitarians, who go through enormous personal risk and hardship to protect the lives of children. 

On World Humanitarian Day this 19 August, we honour the humanitarians who provide life-changing support to many children around the world. And we acknowledge the humanitarian response they deliver where the need is greatest – in places of health crises, conflict and climate emergencies. 

“We obviously take sides. We take the side of children.” 

Twenty years ago, Sonia Khush was working in Iraq, when a terrorist attack on the UN offices in Baghdad killed 22 UN staff. This day and the outpouring that resulted led to the first World Humanitarian Day – a day when we remember the enormous risks humanitarian workers take in their daily work. 

“It was shocking. It was tragic. People I had been working with died that day,”  Sonia shares. 

This attack was one of the most lethal in UN history, and it was the first time that a neutral international humanitarian organisation had been deliberately targeted like this.

“We obviously take sides. We take the side of children. Of their rights, of their need for food, education, healthcare and a clean environment. Which interestingly often puts us at a path of collision with certain…authorities. So how do we be brave and speak out, yet still be able to operate in the same country? That’s an ongoing issue that we constantly deal with in countries where we work,”  explains Sonia.

It’s just one of the challenges Sonia faces in this line of work, and in her current post as Country Director for Save the Children Ukraine. For someone whose past postings include Syria, Philippines, Pakistan, and Haiti, Sonia is no stranger to playing “an active role in helping children impacted by deep, transformative times.”

But she says, “The best part of my job is when I get to go out to the field and be with the field teams, see our programs, and talk to people who are benefiting from our work to hear about their lives. Learning about their challenges, how the conflict has affected them, and what they need, is the most fulfilling part of my job.”

As shown in this video, Sonia goes out near frontlines of conflict in Ukraine to help reach families with programs like cash assistance.

In conflict situations, delivering a humanitarian response is never easy. Sonia shares, “At times, we have to justify why we need to help people – often faced with questions like, ‘it is easier for you to just ignore’ this or that group. Sometimes, the hardest part is reminding those who are warring of their humanity.” 

“My passion was maybe I could save a child’s life with my voice and words”

Nineteen-year-old Yasmeen would attest that saving a child’s life is also about lending your voice to advocate for their rights.

Yasmeen considers herself representing the rights of children with disabilities. She has spoken out in public events and global campaigns, and is passionate about saving a child’s life through her voice and words.

As a volunteer in our Yemen Communications Team, she says her role “helped me become more determined to achieve my goals. It has also helped me to work on giving children a voice, and to be in the right place to do so, in order to ensure they are actually being listened to.”

Yasmeen shares, “The access to humanitarian services for children with disabilities is often limited, which impacts those children in a negative way …I will work to change that by actively advocating for the rights of children with disabilities, and ensuring they are seriously involved and helped. This is the one thing that I really feel that I want to advocate for.”

“The enormous needs out there motivate me to do my best.”

In many remote parts of the world, access to health care is still a challenge. Emadudin is a Save the Children health officer who runs a mobile health clinic in a conflict-affected area in Sudan.

His work involves eight hours of travel to reach remote areas where his team sets up tents to offer free medical and nutritional services. They treat cases of malnutrition, injuries, pre- and postnatal care, infections, and tropical diseases like malaria.

Emadudin says, “The enormous needs out there are what motivates me to do my best. We must reach people…My work in the organisation gives me the opportunity to serve others in a satisfying way … What makes me feel happy is when I see the gratitude on the faces of those we support.”

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day, to pay tribute to humanitarian workers who have risked and lost their lives in humanitarian service. Save the Children humanitarians protect the rights of children around the world, made possible by the compassionate help of our supporters.

About the top image: A Save the Children volunteer helps transport emergency supplies to children and adults impacted by Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu.

Credit: Michel Calo Kapp / Save the Children.

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