Each year, on World Humanitarian Day, we pause for a moment to recognize the efforts and sacrifices of those who make our humanitarian programs a reality, and to celebrate their work. That work has become even more complex and urgent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we introduce you to six people — 3 staff and 3 partners — who represent the essential spirit of Concern’s mission. They are our heroes.
Jasmine Augustin, Haiti.
“I see us as a light for the children”
Many of the people who work on Concern programs don’t actually work for Concern, but rather for local partner organizations. Jasmine Augustin is employed by JEDe, a Haitian organization dedicated to the protection and development of children at risk.
Growing up in the Fontamara neighborhood of Port au Prince, Jasmine spent a lot of time in the community library, reading and learning. In fact, she spent so much time there that the manager eventually assigned her the task of reading aloud with local children and leading them in educational games. It was not something she could ever have imagined as becoming a life mission. “Back then, I didn’t know what commitment was — it was just something I did.”
Nearly two decades later, Jasmine is today part of a grassroots movement to engage and inform Haitian youth in some of the capital’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The opportunities for young people to go astray are many, and too often they drift into a life of petty crime or fall victim to exploitation and abuse. “I see us as a light for the children,” she says.
JEDe develops programs that use role-play, games, and communal activities to help young people understand the importance of respect for themselves and others — and to know their own rights and responsibilities. As an Animatuer, Jasmine is constantly interacting with those who will define the future of Haiti, a mission that drives her forward every day. She is hopeful for that future. “It’s because we need a better tomorrow that we do this work. We want to engage at 100%.”
Protecting what's precious in Haiti
Concern is partnering with JEDe and UNICEF in Cité Soleil to provide kids with information and life skills... and fun.
Mesay Woldesenbet, Ethiopia
“Ever since I graduated from college in 2011, I’ve worked in a refugee camp… I like to help people.”
Being a humanitarian very often involves varying degrees of discomfort and frustration. It literally comes with the territory. The Gambella region of Ethiopia is a tough place to work — remote, isolated, lacking infrastructure, and very, very hot. For an Ethiopian highlander, that heat (regularly over 90 degrees) can make life seriously uncomfortable.
But Mesay Woldesenebet and his colleagues at Pugnido Refugee Camp came here to do a job. Tens of thousands of families have crossed the nearby border from South Sudan to take refuge from conflict, and they need help. As Nutrition Team Leader he manages the activities of a team dedicated to identifying and treating cases of child malnutrition. “I have a lot of experience in nutrition and medical practices so I’m ready to contribute what I can.”
At Old Nuer nutrition center, where Mesay works alongside a team of 45 people, he explains that an average of 500 people attend for services every day. For many, this service is all that is keeping severe malnutrition at bay. Why did he choose to work in public health? “I lost my father when I was kid, and before his death, he was bedridden for a long period of time. Because of this, I started to become interested in humanitarian services.”
Samah Zohbi, Lebanon
“I was looking for a way to make a difference… and I felt that we could help in maybe creating a functional environment for refugees.”
Operating modern humanitarian programs requires a wide variety of technical expertise, and it’s young professionals like Samah Zohbi who are the beating heart of our emergency response teams. A qualified architect, she previously worked in the private sector, but since joining Concern, her life has taken a very different turn.
Much of Concern’s work with Syrian refugees in Northern Lebanon involves helping them to find secure and appropriate accommodation. Many live in rudimentary shelters or unfinished buildings, with little by way of basic services. The winters here can be especially tough. Samah has the technical knowledge to help — and, as a committed humanitarian, she has the incentive too. “I was looking for a way to make a difference… and I felt that we could help in maybe creating a functional environment for refugees.”
Leading a team of 12 professionals, Samah has developed her own technical and management skills, but the experience has also changed her as a person. “I think I’ve also become more compassionate for vulnerable people since I’m working here. I’m not looking now for expensive things in my life, and don’t think this is a priority in my life anymore because I think that other people are in need of much more… basic things like water and electricity.”
Simon Piol, South Sudan
“I am happy to help people because if I save lives, they will become great people.”
The story of Simon Piol’s journey to being a humanitarian is bittersweet. As a young boy in Southern Sudan, he suffered the consequences of the ongoing conflicts around him, becoming seriously malnourished. It was a Concern team that intervened in his locality, providing food supplies for those in need.
20 years on, Simon works for Concern as a Nutrition Assistant, near to his home village in what is now South Sudan. He’s proud to do the work, but the fact that the need still exists is a sign of wider failures. 60% of the population is food insecure, and as many as 1.4 million children under the age of 5 face hunger.
Simon screens and admits malnourished children to Concern’s CMAM program, which has proven hugely impactful over the past 20 years. Describing his job as “the best thing ever,” Simon is eager to see the program further expanded “If it’s possible, we need to create more [nutrition] sites. This site is not enough.”
His life was saved — now he's passing it on
At 7 years old, Simon Piol was malnourished and relied on food distributions to survive. Now, he’s helping to save other kids.
Elizabeth Odhur, Kenya
“I was all alone in the slums and I was in a very bad situation. My children grew up in a difficult environment.”
Elizabeth Odhur’s humanitarian mandate comes from her own experience. As a single mother living in one of Nairobi’s urban slums, she struggled to keep her family safe and healthy. Today, as a Community Health Volunteer, she works tirelessly to help other women and children who suffer the same predicament.
“I have been doing this for 13 years now and I love it very much. I work closely with day care centers and care givers to help children get a better life. If they are malnourished, I get them to the facility and get proper treatment for them.” Elizabeth is supported by Concern in her role as a volunteer, but she also works as a tailor to generate income. “I do most of that work in the evening in my own house.”
So why does she take all of this upon herself? “I love to be here because of my experience. I was all alone in the slums and I was in a very bad situation. My children grew up in a difficult environment, so I believe if someone can educate and help these mothers to understand the importance of health, all our community will be in a better place and we will help each other in our lives. That’s why I volunteer myself to help mothers know and understand the importance of healthcare.”
Fouzia Mohamed Ali, Somalia
“Even when I was in the US, I never really left the sector, first working in a community clinic and then with Seattle’s human services department.”
Somalia is an amazing country, but has also been for decades one of the most difficult and dangerous places to be a humanitarian. Fouzia Mohmed Ali knows this well. But she also knows the value that her organization can bring to the lives of people who face economic and social challenges.
Growing up in Mogadishu, Fouzia saw the privations of war and the impact it had on people who could not access basic healthcare or education services. Fortunate enough to get her own education abroad, she entered the aid sector after graduating. “I wanted to do what little I could to help people get the basic services.”
But eventually Fouzia, like many others, was forced to flee her own country in 1998 for the safety of the United States, where she lived and worked for nearly 10 years. In 2017 she went home to Somalia, and today she is Director of Operations for GREDO, a local organization that numbers Concern among its international partners. “This is a way for Somali communities to decide their own needs. The closer you are to the root of the problem, the closer you are to the problem solving.”