Two Kenyans, Ms Umar Omar from Lamu and Mr Isaac Otieno, are among the 19 from 16 countries who are being honoured today (August 19, 2020) by the United Nations as the world marks the 11th humanitarian day.
Ms Omar is the founder of a mobile doctor’s unit that offers basic medical care every month to hundreds of people in more than 17 villages in Lamu.
Mr Otieno, who works in South Sudan, is in charge of seven education departments in the war-torn country. Through his programmes, he has promoted children going to school, offering them psychological support as well as food.
He went to South Sudan as a humanitarian worker in 2015 and was struck with how the country was struggling to pull itself together after the 2013 war.
Help vulnerable people
After returning to Kenya, he realised that he wanted to get involved in humanitarian work, to do something for the most vulnerable people and founded an organisation.
“That is a typical South Sudanese community — they are not dependent, they want to drive things forward,” Mr Otieno says.
Ms Omar, on the other hand, responded to the need of people in rural areas who are often ignored and side-lined by the Kenyan health system.
She came back to Kenya in 2014 from the United States where she lived and worked, just a few months after Al-Shabaab terror attacks that had rocked Lamu County. She learnt that a medical project that was supporting the community had since stopped operating. She revived it.
For a year, Ms Omar had to raise Sh50,000 to pay a nurse and fuel a motorbike used in the project.
She says since vaccines and medicines were available, her task now was to get someone to go round administering them.
“I did that for a whole year,” she says.
Primary medical care
Two years later, the project became Safari Doctors, which delivers primary medical care and health education by boat, air and land to Bajuni and Aweer, two minority communities in Lamu.
In 2016, Ms Omar was even named a CNN hero for her work.
“I think humanitarian work needs to stop being a by the way thing. It should be something that we are living as the norm,” she says.
In a statement, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) termed the two and the others as dedicated people.
“Self-sacrifice of these real-life heroes represents the best of humanity as they respond to the Covid-19 crisis and the massive increase in humanitarian needs it has triggered,” the statement said.
OCHA, which coordinates global emergency response, recognised the difficult circumstances in which the humanitarian workers discharge their duties.
To honour them, the UN General Assembly set aside August 19 as the World Humanitarian Day in memory of 22 workers killed in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad.
The world is not yet safe for humanitarian workers.
In 2019, 125 paid for the work they do with their lives. Another 234 were wounded and were 124 kidnapped. This was an 18 per cent increase in the number of victims compared to 2018.