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Celebrate Women Humanitarians

World Humanitarian Day 2019 is set to celebrate Women Humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place.

Celebrate Women Humanitarians

By Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ

19 August 2003 will remain etched forever on the hearts and minds of many! On that fateful day, the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and twenty-one of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.

Sergio was a Brazilian national who had dedicated a lifetime, spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, alleviate their suffering and draw attention to their plight. His untimely death together with so many of his colleagues, deprived the victims of armed conflict worldwide of a unique humanitarian leader of unmatched courage, drive and empathy who championed their cause fearlessly and etched their plight on the world map. The tragic event also robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader and intellectual whose thinking, philosophy, dynamism and courage inspired all and remains a timeless legacy for coming generations to emulate.
Sergio Viera de Mello - lost a unique humanitarian leader

Due to the relentless efforts of his close friends, associates and family members, the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day : “a day dedicated to recognize humanitarian personnel and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes.” The UN first commemorated the day on 19 August 2015.

Every year, the day focuses on a particular theme. This year the theme is ‘Celebrating #Women Humanitarians’. The website of OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) says, World Humanitarian Day 2019 is set to celebrate Women Humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place. Women Humanitarians hold a sense of unparalleled uniqueness, one that adds to the global momentum of female strength, power and perseverance. It is time to honor the women who have acted as first responders to the darkest hours of crisis.This year’s campaign on Women Humanitarians supports the recognition that women deserve in the strengthening of global humanitarian response as well as in protection efforts under the international law.This August 19, rituals of everyday life will be used to showcase the contrast of what our humanitarians encounter on a daily basis. As we would map moments of everyday life against women humanitarians all across the world, these special women’s experiences would seem all the more relatable and real. We seek your support this World Humanitarian Day in honoring those women who have tirelessly improved countless lives, showcasing incredible strength along the way”.
Antonio Guterres - women humanitarians are unsung heroes

Yes, there are certainly countless women, all over the world who are at the forefront of humanitarian work- indefatigable, very silent, very committed yet unrecognized. One such woman is Randa Maghribi, originally from Syria, now a refugee in Lebanon.

There is something simply amazing about Randa! This courageous woman has braved all odds; over the years, she has seen and experienced hunger and deprivation; bombardments and suffering; destruction and death. Randa however, is not one to be defeated. She has an indomitable spirit. From her new home in Baalbek, Lebanon, she has become a humanitarian worker- caring and reaching out to those who have suffered and are suffering more than her.

Randa loves to write stories and also to paint. For her it is a therapy to help make the world a better place. She uses her stories and paintings in her humanitarian outreach. She has written a little story book for children in Arabic, ‘Arragheef Alyabes’ (meaning ‘Dry Bread’) which reads like a fairy tale. However, in reality, it is the story of the suffering and deprivation that she and her family have gone through (which many others in Syria are still going through). After writing it in March 2017, she first read out the story to her two little sons, Akram (then12 yrs.) and Hamza (then 6 yrs.). They simply loved it. In writing a story ‘for children’, Randa would like children to be aware about the pangs of hunger, of what it means to be a displaced person, desperately fleeing to a place of safety but often, with nowhere to go! She hopes that her story would inspire many children: to help them realise that food is a basic right for all and they must ask for it; to help them care for and to share with others; to welcome and to accept a stranger! This ‘children’s story’ has very powerful messages for adults too! It is a story that needs to be read by all!
Daya Bai - a brave humanitarian in conversation with Justice Kurian Joseph

As she speaks about her story, several painful memories overwhelm her: the death of her younger sister in childbirth; of how her nieces and nephews had to survive on ‘cat’s meat’; of how hunger can destroy the spirit of almost anyone. “For a hungry person she says even ‘dry bread’ means survival it means hope, and it can give new life”. For Randa, having something to eat is a basic right for every human being and war deprives people of this right. As someone, who deeply cares for humanity today – Randa is convinced that her story has possibilities of evoking the right type of response from all those who read it!

Being an accomplished artist Randa has illustrated her story with more than a dozen paintings in vibrant colours. The pictures vividly capture the mood and the flow of her story. Randa happily points out to some of her other drawings and paintings that decorate the JRS Social Centre. One of them is a ‘Lady on horseback’; when asked if it is a self-portrait, Randa only beams back; one does not need an answer! A modern day ‘Joan of Arc’ has arrived in Baalbek! Randa has a special gift for JRS: a ceramic plate and a bag, on which, the previous evening, she has beautifully painted, her expression of gratitude.

Ever since she came to Lebanon, Randa has been volunteering with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Baalbek. She is very grateful for the meaning and identity JRS has given her – and for grooming her as a humanitarian worker. For Randa, life has been one long and difficult journey from her beautiful Al – Zabadani in Syria. Nada El Myr, the Project Director of JRS Baalbek echoes the sentiments of many, “Randa, symbolizes for all of us, strength and hope. A great example of a woman who achieves her goals, inspite of much difficulty and suffering. Someone who is helping make this world a better place.”
Mother Teresa - most recognized humanitarian of the world

As we celebrate Women Humanitarians on ‘World Humanitarian Day’ this year we need to listen and share the story of Randa and innumerable other women who have braved all hostilities, defied all odds, to reach out to those most in need in some of the most dangerous places on earth. As the UN Secretary- General, Antonio Guterres puts it poignantly, “from supporting civilians caught up in crisis to addressing disease outbreaks, women humanitarians are on the front lines.” They are truly the unsung heroes of our time. Let us salute them: their compassion, their courage, their commitment today! Let us, above all, learn from them!

Happy World Humanitarian Day!

(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is an internationally acclaimed human rights and peace activist/writer. For three years (2016-18) he worked as a humanitarian worker on Advocacy and Communications in with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Middle East in countries like Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. He is back in Ahmedabad now engaged in various advocacy/human rights issues. Today 19 August 2019 World Humanitarian Day)

(Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Unsplash)

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