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Humanitarian work: a call of duty

16 Aug 2017
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Felix (second from left) believes that sometimes you just have to pay attention to a few people who really need help.

An older displaced woman arrived at the door of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Zalingei, central Darfur, with her five grandchildren. They had fled from their village in Darfur’s Jebel Marra area due to unrest, and they were tired and hungry after walking for miles to find safety.

By the time they arrived at the OCHA office, the official registration of newly displaced people was over for the day. But being registered is an essential part of ensuring that internally displaced persons (IDPs) receive assistance, and hundreds of people are registered each day in areas of new displacement. Realizing the family was malnourished as well as exhausted, Felix Omunu, OCHA’s Head of Office in Zalingei, put aside his work and ensured they were registered so that they could receive assistance.

Felix is just one of the many humanitarian workers around the world who we celebrate on World Humanitarian Day (WHD). Held every year on 19 August, WHD marks the efforts of humanitarian workers who often work in difficult conditions to help people in need.

Felix is from Uganda, but he moved to Darfur in 2012 to join OCHA.

“Working with people who need humanitarian assistance has transformed my life,” he said. “It separated me from my wife and four children for months at a time. When I returned home to see my family for the first time after moving to Darfur, I found it difficult to return to the field. Although we miss each other, my family supports me, which is important. They recognize that my job is important and that I work with partners to provide life-saving assistance in Darfur.”

When Felix first arrived in Sudan, he was not new to working in humanitarian assistance. In Uganda, he worked with the Government in the Department of Disaster Preparedness and Management. He then worked for the international NGO Oxfam, and later joined OCHA in Uganda. Once the humanitarian situation in Uganda improved, the OCHA office closed and Felix joined OCHA Sudan.

Humanitarian work in Sudan is often challenging and requires persistence, as humanitarian needs in the country are complex and diverse. Refugees and IDPs who have been displaced—often multiple times—and have been living in protracted displacement for years still require support. The type of support varies. For example, the needs of a refugee girl living away from her home country are different from the needs of an older man recently displaced from his village inside his own country.

“Humanitarian work is a call of duty for me, especially when you see people who are in urgent need,” said Felix. “We often talk about how many thousands of people are displaced or in need, but it is important to put the people before the statistics, and more importantly put faces on those statistics. Working in the field means you see the level of suffering that displaced people go through. That drives me to take action to make a difference in the lives of affected people.”

Despite the sacrifices required to work in the field, Felix remains strong. He chose this work because he understands humanity. He is empathic, driven and committed, and he believes that his efforts are making a difference.

He added: “Sometimes I see desperation among people who are in need. But after a week or so, when they have received some initial assistance such as food, water and shelter, signs of hope appear in their eyes. That’s when I know that I’m accomplishing something important.”