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What is the Significance of UN's World Humanitarian Day in Sydney?

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by Lionel (subscribe)
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Published August 26th 2012
Homeless in Sydney / Image by justthething84 of Flickr

Another day in Sydney. Another day in paradise. Or is it?

Every day, conflicts and disasters befall millions of people everywhere but never more intense and painful than in the world's poorest and marginalised economies. Even in NSW, 680,000 people go to bed every night without food based on a report from Foodbank. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, in 2011 alone, 302 hazards resulted in disasters that claimed almost 30,000 lives, affected over 206 million people and inflicted damage worth an estimated USD366 billion.

United Nations Building in New York / Image by Ashitakka of Flickr

In such times of suffering, humanitarian aid workers reach out to help rebuild and rehabilitate the victimised communities, helping millions of people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are. Though the number may look small, more than 800 aid workers worldwide have been assassinated, blown up by mines or other explosive devices, abducted or killed accidentally with the people they were aiding over the last 10 years. On 19 August 2003, 22 humanitarian staff tragically lost their lives in Iraq in a massive bomb attack on the UN Baghdad headquarters including widely respected UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. In honour of those who have endured great losses in humanitarian service and those who continue to bring assistance and relief to millions, the UN General Assembly adopted the same 19 August to declare World Humanitarian Day in 2008. On the UN's Remember the Fallen website those who have died in the service of peace are not forgotten.

Beyonce performing "I was Here"

This year, the UN's General Assembly chamber in New York was a concert hall for Beyonce's music video "I was Here". Its orchestrated release in the World Humanitarian Day campaign rallied 1 billion social media voices.

Alan McLean, CEO of RedR Australia, which trains and provides emergency personnel to assist after major disaster shared with me that the international community of humanitarian response, Australia included, is fully stretched and struggling, needing new understanding and new support for its lifesaving mandate. Alan who has been personally involved in overseas disaster since 1979 was concerned that too many people are homeless and hungry - the equivalent of almost twice Australia's population is seeking refuge today and more than four times Australia's population needed international food aid in the past year. Alan reminded that World Humanitarian Day also pays tribute to the aid workers from Australia and all Australian aid agencies should review processes around selection, preparation and deployment of field staff to ensure their continued safety and welfare.

The UN Association of Australia, a national non-profit organisation dedicated to informing the community about the work of the UN, partnered with AusAID to coordinate national celebrations for World Humanitarian Day. UNAA Executive Director Elizabeth Shaw shared that she and her team hoped that all Australians become aware of the vital importance of a timely, effective and generous Australian aid program, and an aid program that supports UN agencies on the ground which are saving lives in incredibly difficult environments. World Humanitarian Day, she stated provides an opportunity to reflect on Australia's humanitarian contribution and ways to enhance our aid program

The Australian Government is also doing its bit via AusAID to help 30 million vulnerable people around the world. Its AUD405 million in global humanitarian funding in 2012 will provide life-saving assistance in conflict and crisis situations.

As someone who has served on various UN-related committees, I support the UN's efforts and its Millennium Development Goals. But this Day is not about glorifying UN and its people who face danger and adversity in order to deliver aid. It's not about international dignitaries who gather in the grand chambers fueled by loft goals of saving the world. Although the event has now passed and likely forgotten, the real significance of World Humanitarian Day is about people. It's about everyone. It's about you. And how you can make a difference.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon / Image by Cantus of Wikipedia Commons

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, "This year's World Humanitarian Day presents an historic opportunity to bring together one billion people from around the world to advance a powerful and proactive idea: People Helping People…"

Oxfam Australia which works for a future free from poverty acknowledged that doing good is easy. They believe at a more grass-roots level, World Humanitarian Day is also a timely opportunity to reflect on our own lives, and what we as individuals can do to help others. The Australian Red Cross have always understood the power of humanity. Olivia Cozzolino, Australian Red Cross' General Manager for Merchandise and Retail and her team have been working with individuals who generously donate their winter woollies to the 164 retail stores around Australia in a kind gesture to warm up the less fortunate who are feeling the cold.

You don't even have to wait for World Humanitarian Day to witness daily acts of kindness in Sydney.

Every day, Foodbank NSW estimates it provides 15,000 meals to help address hunger among working poor families, which CEO Gerry Andersen said is a major concern in western Sydney and the NSW Central Coast.

Cafes around Sydney team up with StreetSmart through its CafeSmart initiative for a common cause during National Homeless Persons Week. StreetSmart CEO Adam Robinson said CafeSmart united cafes, coffee roasters and coffee drinkers to contribute part of their earnings to support community programs that tackle homelessness. Last year CafeSmart helped support 38 local projects through the AUD47,477 raised in a day.

Mission of Hope (MoH) works with the Australian Muslim Community to provide gifts for children in hospitals including Westmead Children's Hospital, Canterbury Hospital, Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital and Sydney Children's Hospital Randwick, More than that, the organisation has been organizing home cooked meals for every night during the month of Ramadan at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (VIDC) to help 66 displaced folks have a proper meal when they break the fast.

North Sydney Council operates a free service with over 100 participants and 11 volunteers who deliver about 10,500 library books, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs and magazines to housebound frail or disabled people who are unable to visit Stanton Library as well as four aged care facilities in the area. The books are secondary because the most important thing for many of the aged customers is the human contact. For home library service workers Samantha Howes and Laurene Brittan, they enjoy seeing the eyes of the elderly customers light up during deliveries and conversations with them about their day.

Sure, it helped to have Beyonce's celebrity pull factor and her calling on people to rise together and do one nice thing for another human being. Creative agency Droga5 also delivered a successful campaign that put World Humanitarian Day on people's radar and an interactive "I as Here" website that allowed people to peg their small deeds of compassion to their location. But helping someone and doing good does not require you making a commitment to become a humanitarian aid worker, or volunteering to go and help in Algeria for 3 years, or trying to help solve the world's problems, or even riding 200km from Sydney to Camden and back to raise funds for charity. You can be delivering a meal to a homeless person; holding the elevator door for someone; sharing your skills in a community project; helping an older person with their shopping bags; sharing jokes with the elderly in a home; taking an disabled neighbour to the park; reading to a sick child in the hospital; giving away something you don't use; recommend someone a job; or sharing a smile.

So Sydney, remember to share your kindness around and do something good, somewhere, for someone else.
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