From the Field

World Humanitarian Day: An aid worker’s diary from a refugee camp

World Humanitarian Day: World Vision Regional Field Director Buli Hagidok holds a baby as she talks with a refugee family in a camp in Bangladesh. Home to 886,000 refugees, this camp is the largest, most densely populated in the world.

On August 19, World Humanitarian Day pays tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, advocates for the safety and security of these humanitarian aid workers, and rallies support for the survival, well-being, and dignity of people affected by crises around the world.

Every year on World Humanitarian Day, we shine a spotlight on the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict. On this day we also take a moment to honor the brave health and aid workers who are targeted or obstructed as they set out to help people in need.—U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

Through our global disaster and emergency response efforts, World Vision staff reach millions of people affected by humanitarian crises each year with life-saving assistance and restorative support. This covers our work in fragile contexts, like Myanmar and Bangladesh, where an increasing number of the world’s most vulnerable children live.

Today, 1.5 billion people live in fragile contexts. These are hard places where conflict, human rights abuses, ethnic and religious strife, and extreme poverty are concentrated. Children and families who live in them can’t count on local or national institutions like schools, health systems, markets, or courts to function reliably or justly.

Improving the lives and prospects of people in fragile contexts is the key to meeting the global Sustainable Development Goals, especially that of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from fragility is resilience, the ability to withstand or adapt to shocks and stresses like drought, crop failure, and conflict. A community’s resilience, not only becoming more developed, is what World Vision is driving toward as we engage in these hard places. This means not only addressing poverty through economic empowerment programming but helping families and communities to shore up every form of available social capital so they can bounce back from recurring crises such as severe weather and disease outbreaks that could wipe out their financial independence.

The work World Vision’s relief and development workers perform in situations like the Myanmar refugee crisis helps make this a reality for many of the families we work with.

Elsie Gomes, a longtime World Vision staff member in Bangladesh, was deployed earlier this year to Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh to help with the Myanmar refugee crisis response. Here are her thoughts on her time working with refugees in the camps.

World Humanitarian Day- Diary of an aid worker, Elsie Gomes writes about her experience in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Elsie Gomes, a longtime World Vision staff member, talks with refugees at a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Elsie was deployed to southeast Bangladesh to help with the Myanmar refugee crisis response in early 2018. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Shabir Hussein)

Myanmar refugee crisis: An aid worker’s diary

When they asked me, “Would you be deployed for the refugee response?” I said “yes” within seconds. But as I made my way to Cox’s Bazar, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see — a family of six living under a dainty plastic sheet in a space as small as a toilet stall.

The magnitude of the crisis became more and more evident as I traveled to World Vision’s relief distribution center, where a supplementary food package distribution was about to take place.

World Vision began its emergency response here last fall, as thousands of refugees poured over the border from Myanmar fleeing violence. Now, more than 720,000 people have settled in southeast Bangladesh and need immediate food, water, shelter, and medical assistance. World Vision has assisted more than 178,000 refugees in Bangladesh since the crisis began in September 2017. We aim to help about 250,000 refugees and hosts through 2018 with food, food vouchers, income-generating activities, clean water, sanitation facilities, healthcare, and Child-Friendly Spaces.

The refugees trickled into the distribution center one by one to pick up relief supplies. Listening to the instructions, they formed a long human chain.

Mothers, many still mourning the loss of their husbands, brought their children with them. Noticing me standing on the side, out of curiosity, the children would sheepishly glance at me.

It was like watching the reflection of my own children in their faces; their innocence radiated brightly.

Initially reluctant to connect, the children warmed up to me after seeing me around the camp for an extended period.

With the children reeled in, the mothers joined, creating room for conversations.

I met one woman who had crossed the border into Bangladesh two days earlier; she had lost her husband in the violence. Other women struggled to find privacy to bathe. One by one they shared their painful ordeals.

Wrestling with my emotions, I continued to listen to their testimonies: defecating in the open with no privacy and struggling with feeling a lack of safety. Women poured out their hearts to me.

Knowing these families settled in cramped sheds, on a hill, with no trees to hold the soil together
evokes a concern within me about the rain triggering a landslide. What then?

In the midst of all the challenges, I witnessed a distribution being rolled out and observed all the aid organizations working together to provide for the immediate needs of the refugees. This brought me a sense of hope.

I left the camps and returned home with a better understanding of the needs and how we and other organizations are working to meet these needs.

But there is so much more to be done.

How can I help refugees?

Receiving humanitarian assistance is a life or death matter for most of the world’s refugees, half of whom are children.

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