World Humanitarian Day

19 August is World Humanitarian Day.

Image by Andrew Price from Pixabay

The annual commemoration marks a tragedy:

On 19 August 2003, we lost 22 colleagues in an attack on the United Nations in Baghdad, Iraq. The tragedy profoundly changed the way in which humanitarians operate – from being respected, to being targeted – and led to the creation of World Humanitarian Day (WHD).

Today, 20 years on, our work has grown in scale and complexity. We aim to help almost 250 million people – 10 times more people than in 2003.


Out of tragedy, good things can emerge.

It is my privilege to know many people who do their bit to help others: women, refugees, detainees, children, convalescents, palliative care, disempowered and dispossessed others.

Thank you to them all. I draw inspiration from their example, and I hope that others do as well.

“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” (Schindler’s List, 1982).

Today, and every day, let’s do something to help our fellow humans (and other living/sentient beings), and to make the world a better place for our having been a part of it. Our personal journey is finite, but we can contribute to a larger story.

Leaving a legacy of having saved or helped others, increasing the sum total of love and compassion in the Universe – surely there is no greater legacy or form of immortality.

My own recent work includes being a volunteer Board member of Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees – please donate here to save a life or alleviate suffering.

I also invite people to inform me of their own efforts and noble causes. Let’s make every day a World Humanitarian Day.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

2 thoughts on “World Humanitarian Day”

  1. This is something I’ve been thinking on today. What can I do, each day, to show love, kindness or compassion to someone else?

    I’ve been binge listening to a back log of podcasts called ‘Behind the Bastards’ in which the host covers history’s greatest bastards- there’s the most infamous such as Hitler, Stalin, and so forth- as well as many you may have never heard of such as the Reform Schools in Canada, a policy that insisted all native children be taken away from their tribes and schooled in either religious or state schools. This policy only ended in the 1990s and was part of a systemic attempt to eradicate the ‘native’ part of these children’s identity and with minds/souls washed with Canadian white ethos. It didn’t succeed in creating what it set out to do. Instead of confident assimilated native children it created lost, confused and often self destructive people who battled with alcohol addiction, self-confusion, isolation and crime. The school’s themselves physically, sexually and mentally abused many of the children in their care. Mass graves of children’s bodies have also been discovered on the grounds where these schools were located- which is to say nothing of the children who died (and recorded) whilst in care or sent home to die when they were sick. Here in Australia, we have experienced a similar tragedy with the stolen generation. Sadly, on listening to example after example of atrocities committed throughout time, the only thing that stands true is that there is nothing new under the sun.

    The most recent podcast I came across on the backlog focused on the ‘School of the Americas’. This CIA initiative consisted of the American military training the soldiers from various Latin American countries in things such as the use of weapons and the best ways to handle social dissonance. It was imperative Lat for the USA to gain footholds across Latin America during the 60s and 70s in order to prevent Communist-inspired uprisings from occurring on their doorstep. The School of the Americas was also where the CIA encourage the use of certain torture techniques, back then still in their infancy, to be used against political activists. These techniques were eventually perfected by military groups in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil (and others) in order to break leftist movements that had been democratically elected in these countries (but quickly overrun by coups that had been trained by the U.S.A for such a time as these). Millions of students, housewives, doctors, solicitors, peasants, and others were tortured, killed, or ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorships that ruled these nations. To be clear, sovereign nations that had been democratically elected parties with left-leaning aspirations, such as nationalizing mines so that those profits could be used to pay for the improvement of education for the majority of their people living in poverty. Industries that were owned by American corporations saw this as a threat to their profits hence the preparation of American-trained forces to stop the threat before it impacted their bottom lines.

    Why am I sharing this? Well, the School of the Americas has a direct impact on me, in a funny way. Back in the 1970s, leftist activists in Uruguay called the ‘Tupamaru’s’ began a campaign to create change to the unfair distribution of wealth as well as a hope-filled political revolution. While unable to bring about political change, such as Allende in Chile (who was quickly assassinated after being voted into government), the Tupamarus concentrated efforts of revolutionary activity, which started as non-violent and included the sharing out of food purchased after bank robberies, was enough of a threat that government had to stamp out their efforts. The CIA-backed military eventually succeeded in getting rid of the threat and followed through by a military coup and 12-year dictatorship to ensure revolutionary leftist impulses were quelled.

    The dictatorship started in 1973- I was born in 1977- and my family was able to migrate to Australia in 1980. At one time, Uruguay had the greatest number of tortured or disappeared people in ratio to its population in the world. We have only 3 million people.

    I grew up hearing bits and pieces of what had happened in Uruguay and why we had to leave the country of my birth. My father once told me of his apprehension at the airport, when we were leaving for Australia and his documents were being inspected, that somehow his student days throwing petrol bombs at the police had suddenly gotten on his records. I understood the American government had been involved and that my homeland’s efforts to confront poverty via leftist means had been undermined by the dictatorship. Stories of Che Guevara and Castro’s Cuba also filled my head with dreams of one day returning to South America and taking part in a revolution.

    During my early university days I joined the Socialist Worker’s Party and while the required reading was helpful, I didn’t see much activity in their activism. Perhaps the affluence of Australia and the relative comfort of our welfare system (when compared to Uruguay) makes political change less desperate. I was able to backpack in Latin America during my early 20s but what became obvious was that the people in each country I visited were focused on their own issues and breakthroughs. They saw me as a rich Westerner. When compared to their circumstances I knew my relative privilege made my desire to ‘help’ irrelevant. Even in Uruguay, the land of my birth, whose history had inspired my desires for social justice, rejected me. In their eyes, I was ‘Australian’.

    When I came back from my travels I felt lost. I realized I had no right to try to join in social change attempts in Latin America because the ease I had grown up in Australia took away my credentials as a local. Eventually, I came across the concept of ‘Community Development’, the idea of working with groups on the edges of society to empower them to bring along their own social changes. I felt this was the compromise I was seeking and sought to train to become a Community Development Worker. By then I was in my mid-twenties and before long my circumstances changed in that I became a single mother. Suddenly the realities of having to provide for a child on my own, while facing my own struggles with depression, pushed away my aspiration for social change, and instead survival was my main focus. In time I was able to complete my studies in Community Development as well as get a degree in International Aid and Development. I still wanted to live in South America, possibly with my teenage son or wait til he became an adult and go on my own. Instead, when I was 35 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a debilitating condition that leaves me in pain and bed-bound more often than not.

    Listening to the podcast today has me reflecting on all of this. Reading your piece Geoff has extended that contemplation. Until I had my son, my life was one of wanting to serve, wanting to help, at first the desire to return to my roots and try to create social change there. When that didn’t feel right coming back to Australia and realising there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here. On a personal level I have always tried to help where I can- whether it is offering a friend a couch to sleep on, feeding the hungry, giving to the beggar or simply maintaining a happy and kind demeanor to try to spread some joy to others. For a while I was able to help others who have mental health issues by sharing some of my own journey- I worked in a psychiatric ward until the fibromyalgia got too much to manage and I had to stop working.

    While I still try to offer kindness and compassion in whatever way I can, being sick and stuck at home most of the time means I’m unable to do much. How do I give more when I honestly struggle each day to just get out of bed? What can I do to help others when my physical health has me hostage and I struggle with dark thoughts due to my limited capacity? Is the little I can do enough?

    Just some thoughts I thought I’d share. As I said, the podcast I listened to today brought up a lot of memories and recollections. When I can, I write and do artwork- perhaps that is the main gift I can offer others- my experiences and creativity.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      Your life story is a wonderful example of someone being inspired by their circumstances to offer compassion and natural justice to others. We can all learn from your example.

      I hope you find satisfying, fulfilling and rewarding avenues for your creative, compassionate instinct to serve others. I am sure you will do so. (To me, that is largely what being human is about – humans are social animals, after all, and we thrive best when in meaningful connection with others).

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