Honoring the Fallen Aid Workers among Us

Photo By: Kalun L (CC)

Humanitarian and development workers can be found all over the world, from Bangui to Beirut, from Gao to Geneva. They range in age, ethnicity, education, and religion. But they all have one thing in common: They believed they could make a change in the world. Some believed they could help their country through conflict or to rebuild after a disaster. Others believed moving away from their family and friends to help others was not a sacrifice but an exciting opportunity. They were fathers or mothers, daughters or sons, husbands or wives – but they were all colleagues and friends.

The death of an aid worker rarely provokes the outrage of the international community, nor is it highlighted by international media. There are always exceptions, as in the case of the three national Médicins Sans Frontiéres staff who were killed in Central African Republic in April, or World Vision staff who died in Darfur in July 2013. Many do not realize the deliberative, complex process that goes into addressing the needs of those suffering while balancing the need to protect the lives of international and national staff. Those of us tasked with the responsibility of keeping staff safe do so knowing that failure affects not only their colleagues and families but also those they are serving.

Since 2006, the NGO alliance InterAction has honored people who have lost their lives in service of helping others, whether it be delivering food in some of the hardest hit areas of Syria or simply reporting for work at a medical clinic in Central African Republic. We do this to remind ourselves and the world of how dangerous humanitarian and development work can be regardless of where it is taking place. 

This year, at InterAction’s Forum 2014, we will honor 25 staff from InterAction members.  We will do this as we are reminded that our colleagues at the International Committee of the Red Cross are suffering the loss of their head of operations, Michael Greub. We do this as we remember the lives of 44 Syrian Red Crescent volunteers who have died since the conflict began. We do this as we remember Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who was recently kidnapped in Herat Province, Afghanistan, and continue to hope for his release.

We all know the world is a dangerous place, but we have a collective responsibility to ensure that those who are trying to alleviate suffering or reduce poverty are able to return home each night. And that we never forget those who do not.