World Humanitarian Day: Celebrating the quiet heroes

This Saturday is World Humanitarian Day, which pays tribute to selfless aid workers. The Big Issue plays a part in helping and promoting this vital cause

As conflicts rage across the globe selfless workers risk their lives on a daily basis to provide aid to the civilians left in their wake.

The increasingly vital role that aid workers fill will be marked on August 19 with the celebration of World Humanitarian Day (WHD).

And humanitarians around the globe don’t just answer the call for help when war breaks out – they also rush to the rescue when a natural disaster hits or to tackle effects of poverty in the world’s most deprived locations.

Each World Humanitarian Day runs around a specific theme set by the United Nations

Each day runs around a specific theme set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly with the 2017 iteration aiming to reaffirm that civilians caught in conflict are #NotATarget.

The inspiration for the inaugural WHD came on August 19, 2003 when a terrorist attack hit the UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people – the bloodiest attack to ever strike the intergovernmental organisation.


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Among those who lost their lives was Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN’s top representative in Iraq, and five years later, the organisation adopted a resolution that resulted in the formation of the first WHD in 2009.

And it has even had the backing of celebrities like Beyoncé in the years that followed. The pop superstar was so moved by the concept that she donated her track I Was Here to the cause in 2012, performing at the General Assembly for a special video to mark the occasion.

Humanitarian aid

Humanitarian work is a truly global operation with aid workers dispatched to Europe to meet the refugees who have survived the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, or to Africa to help install running water to poverty-stricken villages, or to rush to provide basic supplies in the wake of devastating natural disasters like the 2010 Haiti earthquake that left thousands homeless.

Even the most developed nations in the world often require humanitarian aid, such as the residents of New Orleans in the USA following the crushing blow dealt by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Even the most developed nations in the world often require humanitarian aid

When governments struggle to provide the assistance required, humanitarian workers help to bridge the gap by giving the people most at risk the basic amenities and resources they need to survive against overwhelming odds.

The Big Issue joins those who look to shine a spotlight on the vital work carried out by humanitarian agencies and staff across the world, whether it be in areas ravaged by war, natural disaster or abject poverty.

Small Projects Istanbul

Proceeds from many products in The Big Issue Shop help to boost humanitarian efforts around the globe. Take, for instance, weareone: collective’s handmade anti-war-themed earrings, which contribute towards Small Projects Istanbul (pictured above), a group who give refugees from Syria access to education and other services in neighbouring Turkey.

Slow cooking

Or Wonderbag’s non-electric portable slow cooker that can cook food for up to eight hours without any additional electricity or fuel. The company also offers a fair deal with one bag donated in Africa every time one is bought in the developed world.

Sarah Collins, Wonderbag founder (below), said: “Humanitarian workers give back hope and support restoring dignity, to enable people to reach their potential, no matter the circumstances.

“It is vital that the world shines a light on humanitarian workers and those human beings they are supporting. Without hope, support and love where would humanity be today?”

Sarah Collins from Wonderbag

Africa also brings an incredibly smart way of recycling magazines to become Quazi Design’s innovative jewellery. Proceeds from the sales of the necklaces, rings and earrings help to provide a living wage for the artisans who craft them in Swaziland.

The Big Issue Shop’s Candy Bomber II shirt, designed by Joe Webb, is printed on an EarthPositive T-shirt and is manufactured using sustainable energy in a bid to reduce the environmental damage to areas affected by climate change.

Colcha Clothing aim to tackle the social, economic and environmental issues in areas where they manufacture their stylish shorts to build up employment and skills and reduce the need for aid.

World Humanitarian Day delivers important messages of how we can all do more to support those most in need

Scott Jarrett, Colcha Clothing co-founder, said: “It is impossible to overstate the efforts aid workers go to, in order to support and enrich the lives of those most vulnerable.

“World Humanitarian Day provides not only a platform for the recognition and gratitude they so richly deserve, but also delivers important messages of how we can all do more to support those most in need.”