A team of child runners at the Leogane meeting. Credit: OCHA
On World Humanitarian Day, we remember our colleagues who have been killed while working to help others. In 2011, 308 humanitarian workers were killed, injured or kidnapped. Most of them were local staff, and most of them were targeted because of their work.
This year, we are marking World Humanitarian Day by celebrating the most basic principle of humanitarian work: People Helping People. Join your voice with Beyoncé and hundreds of millions of people around the world by pledging to help someone on 19th August at http://whd-iwashere.org/.
For inspiration, and to remind everyone of the extraordinary things ordinary people are capable of doing, we asked professional aid workers to tell us a story about someone who inspired them in a crisis.
I met Jean Ronald Borgella when I was working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. He was actually my driver, and whenever we were in the car we got chatting. I soon realized that this was a young man with an enormous heart, big dreams and endless commitment to support underprivileged children.
He had been working as a professional athletics coach before the disaster, having represented Haiti internationally in track and field. He was from a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, on the road to Leogane (the epicentre of the earthquake). His family and house survived, but his neighbourhood was terribly affected. After the quake, he decided to set up his own organisation called Cour.rire, which is a combination of the French words courir (to run) and sourire (to smile). His aim was to help underprivileged kids by providing training in athletics and sports activities as a way of building back their confidence, supporting the parents in providing childcare while they struggled to earn a living, and helping them overcome the trauma of the disaster and the challenges of poverty.
He started in his own neighbourhood, but then started going to other communities and to camps. And he was completely doing this out of his own initiative and in his own time – going to local businesses, trying to get support wherever he could. Really, it was all he could talk about. He said to me “You have to come and see one of our meets.” So I did.
We went to Leogane, and what I witnessed was amazing. There were literally hundreds of children and their families just pouring into this field and being so enthusiastic. It was around the time of carnival, so the kids were all dressed up and painting masks and faces, and the mums brought food. His team had organised everything – painted a track, got the kids uniforms, organised prizes, built track boundaries. The races were like those in a standard athletics meet: 100 metres, 200 metres, relay etc. It was a bit chaotic, but here was a sense of real joy and pride. You could see the impact on the morale. It was transformative.
For me, what’s so impressive is that this guy had such an enormous vision, and motivation that was grounded in reality.He understood the realities of the everyday challenges they face, but he also saw the potential in every single child. He wanted them to feel they had a role and they could have goals to aim for, to dream about, to work towards. He also saw sports as a way to build discipline among the kids and draw them away from drugs and gangs. And he did all this while holding a day job and being responsible for a huge extended family.
He’s actually switched now to doing part-time jobs, so he’s got time for this. His commitment was incredible – I’ve never seen anyone so driven. What was really moving was that although he was struggling financially himself, he still felt incredibly privileged: that he had had the chance to train, to compete overseas, and he felt he ought to give back. He wanted the poorest kids to have the chance to do that, because it had done so much for him. He’s still training them in Leogane – now he’s talking about getting the kids into national-level competition and ultimately to the Olympic team and the Paralympic team. I wouldn’t put it past him. I wouldn’t put anything past him! He's a true champion.
Reporting by Lilianne Fan