What does it take to be a humanitarian?

Generally, people who are in the greatest need live in the most challenging, luckless or brutal places on earth. Places rocked by bloody conflict, places cruelled by merciless drought or natural catastrophe, places not many of us would choose to visit.

Here, three members of our humanitarian team share some insight into what it takes to work in the field, what personal impact it can have and why it’s all worth the discomfort, the frustration and the risk.

Unni Krishnan – Director, Emergency Health Unit

What does it mean to be a humanitarian?

“It is a simple truth that we are one humanity and supporting each other is key for our survival and development. Being a humanitarian is about being compassionate to fellow human beings; standing in solidarity with people and supporting them in their difficult moments. Universal values and principles guide them without any discrimination based on religion, nationality, race etc. Humanitarianism is a simple and powerful idea that reminds us that, as humans, we have much in common to unite us.

Some of the most inspiring humanitarians I have come across are ordinary people, but doing extraordinary things in some of the most challenging contexts. Such frontline workers, sometimes ordinary villagers and health workers, teach an important lesson – you don’t need to be perfect to be brilliant. It is a myth that you need to be an ‘expert’ to be a humanitarian. Having certain skills and deeper understanding on certain issues is definitely helpful, but don’t mistake this for the only criteria.”

What kind of personal qualities do you think one needs to work in this field?

“Compassion, empathy, flexibility, collaboration, rights, values and principle are some of the key mantras.

  • Firstly, it is about being a compassionate fellow human being and having the ability to connect with people and to listen to their problems or aspirations.
  • Flexibility. Humanitarian work unfolds in dynamic, fast changing…

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