Six Steps to Commemorate World Humanitarian Day

Sandra Black interviews livelihood project participants at displacement site in Central Mozambique.

Six Steps to Commemorate World Humanitarian Day

Anniversaries are a time for both celebration and reflection. World Humanitarian Day 2023 marks 20 years since the attack on UN Headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.  This 19 August, USA for IOM honors those who we work with to meet humanitarian needs globally, #NoMatterWhat. 

Echos of the Baghdad bombing persisted when I began working at IOM Iraq in 2014As a communications officer, my role was to bring attention and expand resources to crisis situations.  I share this story, on this day, not only to stand with my fallen colleagues, but also to remind everyone how they can stand with humanitarian workers worldwide. 


Recognize the challenges 

What does it mean to work in conflict situations, natural disasters and post-conflict zones? I remember from my time in Iraq and Central African Republic. 

  • – The bullet holes in the car door of the mission I had originally planned to join; 
  • – A week spent indoors to avoid violent protests, and calling home to say, “Yes Mom, everything’s fine.”; 
  • – Being called on a Wednesday; Could I depart for another continent’s disaster zone by Friday? Yes, of course. 

The humanitarian field experience demands working at full-speed on life-saving tasks, often with intermittent internet and electricity. In most cases as humanitarian workers we have adequate shelter, food, employment, and an organization looking out for us. However, we are faced with daily reminders that those who we support may have lost these entitlements. This work is a labor of love and an exercise in actionable compassion. 


  1. Recognize the needs.  

When humanitarian organizations say, ‘resources are stretched’, it’s true. We witness those needs in the faces of people in need, who must stand aside humanitarian distribution lines that can only provide for those in greatest need. And even for those who do receive assistance, a displaced grandmother and grandchild whom I met, the resources provided may not even be sufficient for them to set up an adequate shelter. During crisis a full range of assistance is required. 

I recall one occasion, at a food distribution for displaced families cornered in a conflict zone, supplies were inadequate. A displaced woman looked at me and said, “If this is the best you can do, we thank you. Is this the best you can do?” Humanitarian resources can rarely provide for all those in need. These situations are painful and uncomfortable for humanitarian workers.  


  1. Uphold compassion.  

In conflict-affected areas, stories shared by displaced families followed a pattern: hearing explosions, fleeing home, surviving in displacement. As displacement figures climb into the millions, the challenge is to not let our compassion fatigue. How do we uphold compassion? By recognizing individuals and their humanity.  

I remember the grateful smiles of displaced individuals who were provided with transportation to reunite with family. And the women in Mozambique, rescued from floods by boat and helicopter, who sang in the bus on the way back home; their joy was contagious.  


  1. Encourage and invest in staff.  

Well-run humanitarian efforts require investment. Staff training and adequate supplies and preparation are essential. 

I remember the Chadian staff member with whom I fled an explosion that targeted the displaced people we were assisting. He was faster than me, but he maintained my pace and held my hand as we ran. Our efforts only succeed when staff are given the support they need, just as he gave me support that day. 


  1. Remember colleagues.  

I salute my colleagues who are working in crisis zones, including Ukraine, Sudan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I simply couldn’t remain passive… I wanted to join a humanitarian mission and contribute my best to aid Ukraine,” said Mykyta, an IOM Ukraine non-food item team member. 

Humanitarian workers are there to serve, despite and because of the risks that are putting other human beings in danger. 

This World Humanitarian Day we keenly remember those whose lives were lost in humanitarian service. We honor their memory with determination to provide enhanced support in times of crisis. 


  1. Support the cause. 

I remember the pride of displaced women in Iraq who used donated equipment to set up hair salons to support their families. In visiting refugee camps and displacement sites I consistently encountered nice, normal people who just happened to have been forced to flee their homes. People who aim to improve their situation, and who can rebuild their lives and thrive when provided with adequate assistance.  

The theme of World Humanitarian Day 2023 is: ‘No Matter What’. No matter the danger, the hardship, the hostilities… what matters is that we make a difference.  

Following several years working in crisis contexts, I am now supporting USA for IOM, continuing to bring attention and resources to IOM’s humanitarian work. I am proud of the spirit of philanthropy in my home country, the United States, and the support offered to those in crisis. Please join humanitarians in standing shoulder to shoulder with the communities we serve #NoMatterWhat. 


About the author 

Sandra Black has worked for UN Agencies and humanitarian organizations in Iraq, Timor-Leste, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Senegal and Brazil. She is now the Lead Communications Officer with USA for IOM, the non-profit partner in the US of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

International Day of UN Peacekeepers: People. Peace. Progress. The Power of Partnerships

International Day of UN Peacekeepers: People. Peace. Progress. The Power of Partnerships

Each year on May 29th the United Nations honors UN Peacekeepers. This year, the UN marks the occasion under the theme People Peace Progress: The Power of Partnerships.” USA for IOM honors those partnerships in highlighting the IOM Kenya’s peace building programs in Mombasa. 

In March, USA for IOM visited the Kadzandani ICT Hub in a Mombasa sub-county. IOM began supporting the center in 2021 through the “contributing to sustainable peace” program. The goal is simple: give young people options and opportunities to prevent them from joining drug gangs or extremist groups.  Through a partnership with Family Health Options Kenya, young people are taught life skills as they are mentored for the job market. Artistic talents flourish with audio/visual training and performances. The center is a safe space and has connected youth and parents with a path away from the false promise of easy money from gang recruiters. 

In a more urban part of Mombasa, IOM established the Majengo Yourh Resource Center in 2016 with the support of the German government, The Kenyan Government considers Majengo a hot spot for youth radicalization and recruitment by the violent extremist group Al-Shabaab. Local youth are trained in beauty, tailoring and computer skills. It is a fully operational center providing real services to the community while giving young people work experience and options for their future. The result is fewer young people joining gangs. 

This May 29th, USA for IOM celebrates the power of collaboration between civil society organizations, local government, clergy, grassroots initiatives, and IOM. Today, we thank all those who work with us in the pursuit of peace.

USA for IOM recognizes The Shapiro Foundation for World Humanitarian Day

Photo Credit: Maria Moreno

USA for IOM recognizes the Shapiro Foundation for World Humanitarian Day

Last Month, Ed Shapiro, safely, joined us for our first in-person partner meeting since the outbreak of COVID-19. We were able to share a hard copy of our 2020 Impact Report with him as well as provide an update on the meaningful work he and his network support with their contributions.

The Shapiro Foundation, founded by Ed and his family after retiring from his 27-year career in investment management, almost exclusively concentrates on refugees and immigration. Ed’s personal experiences, passion, and ambition led him to take a deep dive in understanding the history, causes, impacts of, and responses to migration with the desire to identify and support “win-win” opportunities for bottom-up, community-sponsored support of refugees and migrants.

His foundation is an example of one of the four main partner categories USA for IOM engages within the US private sector—individuals, diaspora organizations, corporations, and foundations. USA for IOM considers the Shapiro Foundation to be a remarkable and valuable partnership because the Shapiros see themselves as humans helping humans in an interconnected world with shared values.

The Shapiro Foundation has partnered with USA for IOM and IOM by assisting in the reunification of Central American minors from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala with their families in the United States. The Shapiro Foundation’s partnership stepped in at a time of great need for these families.

2020, however, brought us the COVID-19 pandemic and, over a year later with uncertainty still brewing, the world is undoubtably changed forever. The challenges, losses, and crises shared globally has led to a world with a greater of understanding of just how interconnected we really are— few can say they are personally unimpacted.

For the families awaiting the day when they would be reunited, COVID-19 brought border closures, safety measures, and restrictions in response to COVID-19. These measures necessary for containing the spread of the novel virus also posed unexpected challenges and delays for these families’ reunification with their loved one. In times like these, the value of partners with passion, understanding, and creativity shines even brighter. The Shapiro Foundation adapted the original plan to accommodate the challenges specific to COVID-19.

Our partners, like Ed Shapiro, are one of the most worthwhile and meaningful examples of how people help people. In recognition of World Humanitarian Day, we are honored to feature Ed Shapiro, his family, and the Shapiro Foundation’s passion, ambition, and meaningful efforts for the most vulnerable refugees and migrants.

World Humanitarian Day 2021

I know I’m not alone when I say that this week has been a heavy one. Leading up to this year’s #worldhumanitarianday, and in the wake of recent events in Haiti and Afghanistan, USA for IOM team and I have been reflecting on how fundraising can enhance its impact through proactive, sustainable investment in development.

It is important to note that while last week’s events were sudden, they were not entirely unpredictable. Sitting on a fault-line in the Caribbean, #Haiti is vulnerable to disasters. What makes this event truly devastating is the underlying social and economic instability that will, in all likelihood, prevent a speedy recovery. We are deploying trucks with food and tents to communities still struggling to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake. And the myriad challenges facing #Afghanistan, which has suffered governance, socio-economic, and development challenges as a result of decades of conflict, are similarly structural and historic.

In responding to these crises, I often feel we are putting bandages on bullet holes. We can take comfort in the Talmudic proverb, “whoever saves one life, saves the world entire,” I feel as though launching emergency relief responses to predictable crises reveals the Sisyphus complex of the philanthropic sector.
To break free from this cycle, we in philanthropy must be proactive and truly start to use our platform and our tools to engender a world that is not less prone to crises, but one with the social and economic fortitude to be more resilient to them. We must focus on the transformation the world needs beyond the crisis du jour and then focus our resources on proactive solutions.

In a way, this also helps answer another question: how do we prioritize emergency responses? When disaster strikes it’s easy to mobilize action for a cause. But once the faces of distant suffering fade from the frontpages, action too begins to wane. In the past I’ve found myself reaching for a bigger, louder bullhorn, feeling the need to scream “look over here, look over there, we still need you here!”

I believe that by shifting philanthropy to focus on addressing the roots of an issue—the systemic challenges that underpin human suffering–we can avoid the pressure to see humanitarian needs as competing, and instead view them as simultaneous. If funders make not only deep but longstanding investments in a cause or region maybe it will relieve the anxiety the fundraising community feels to fight for attention. Moving forward, I want to learn how I, my team as agents to support development and human mobility, can cultivate and encourage that level of donor dedication long before the needs are urgent.

I encourage comments on: How can philanthropy transform our world? What’s the strategy to this game of whack-a-mole? Is it possible to “care” about everything all at once? And how can we translate care into effective, sustained action? #philanthropy