What Does a Humanitarian Do?

On Monday of this week, our Session 2 campers arrived ready to tackle new ideas, make new friends, consider new perspectives, and gain new inspiration. After a day of orientation and settling in, they were an eager group on Tuesday morning when counselor Merseigne posed this question: What does a humanitarian do? Answers were offered, but no real definition of humanitarian work surfaced. Clearly, humanitarian work involves humans, but beyond that, just what is it?

Campers were engaged and inspired by Cara’s energetic presentation about humanitarian work.

What better way to understand the work of a humanitarian than to meet one? And there is no better humanitarian for young people to meet than our facilitator for the day, Cara Yar Khan. It was a true honor to introduce Cara, who has served all over the world with UNICEF and other United Nations agencies, to our campers. With Cara’s help, they explored how Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to disaster situations. The basic rights that this article protects, including the right to food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare, are particularly critical in areas where there have been natural disasters or human-made disasters of war or violence.

Cara started out by telling the story of how she learned about the United Nations as a child and determined that some day, she would work for the UN. She set about learning languages, volunteering, and getting international experience, and in her early 20s, was elated to land an internship with the UN in Ecuador. From that point on, she traveled the world over as a part of a team responding to disasters in places like China, Haiti, Madagascar, Angola, and Thailand. She shared with the campers examples of how very diverse skills and talents are all needed to bring basic needs to people in disaster areas, and she encouraged all of our campers to consider humanitarian work as an option for their future. Her stories of her own experiences as a humanitarian inspired campers and staff alike. 

Cara also shared about her new mission: advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. At age 30, Cara was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and has been losing muscle strength ever since. She told the story of how in Haiti, using leg braces and canes, she encountered a great deal of discrimination in spite of her high-level position with UNICEF. Instead of letting others define her and her abilities, she was able to change the thinking of those who wanted relegate her to a dependent position. Now relying on a wheelchair for mobility, she is a brilliant example of a person who continues to live a life of passionate service to others regardless of physical challenges. 

After questions and answers with Cara, campers split into groups to play a board game to learn more about needs and challenges in disaster situations. The board presented real-life situations that humanitarian workers face: 

  • Well-meaning donors have sent fancy dresses, high-heeled shoes, and toys that require batteries. Clothing and children’s services teams have to spend valuable time sorting through these donations. 
  • Heat and high humidity are causing clothing and tent materials to mildew. 
  • Shipping containers full of canned foods arrive, but there are no can openers. 
  • Healthcare workers need to know what types of blood are available in different areas for patients who need transfusions, but communication systems are down. 

Players worked together to help each other proceed through the game board so that their imaginary community would have all basic needs met. Debriefing after the game with Cara added more insights to the work that she and other humanitarian workers do all over the world.

During a board game about disaster relief, Cara shared stories that made the examples on the board come alive.

After lunch, we celebrated the cultures of places where Cara has worked and where disasters have struck in the recent past. Groups cooked foods from Guatemala (which experienced a devastating volcanic eruption in 2018), China (Sichuan earthquake, 2008), Madagascar (multiple cyclones), New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina, 2005), and India (Cara’s home country).

For our international feast, Cara and campers Cinque, Hae Tha Blay Wah, Mia N., Elizabeth, and Daniel made a fantastic chicken korma from India!
Crumbling queso fresco for Guatemalan elotes!

Before long, amazing aromas were wafting from the Fuller House oven and Jordan House kitchen. While banana bread was baking and red beans and rice were simmering, campers made flags from their assigned areas and decorated tablecloths representing the history and culture. By dinnertime, a huge buffet was set up and we ate our way around the world!

After preparing Sichuan noodles, campers Asha and Mani create a beautiful tablecloth for our international dinner
Guatemala’s flag is a work of art!
So much to learn about India on the tablecloth campers created!
Intricate work on the India tablecloth

If you’d like a taste of our day, here’s the recipe for banana bread from Madagascar, which was a big hit, especially with the impromptu addition of chocolate chips!

  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 1/2 cups rice flour
  • ½ cup butter, melted, 
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 TBSP oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together well, pour into a buttered and floured loaf pan, bake for an hour or longer until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool before removing from the pan. 

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