When people asked me years ago what did for a living, I said that I worked for an international non-governmental organization that focuses on relief and development work.
Now after nearly a decade with different assignments under my belt, I answer that I have worked in the fields of disaster relief, development projects and, in more recent years, assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
That encompasses a lot. And as we mark World Humanitarian Day today (Aug. 19), I realize there are many things I have seen and felt during those nine years of experience. I have many stories I could recount – stories of sadness and stories of optimism.
There is one story in particular that I will never forget. When I and other CWS staffers distributed relief supplies to those affected by the December 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia, I met a woman who had received our relief items.
She thanked me for delivering them and said she had lost her home and her family. She went into more detail, saying she had lost her child in the tsunami. She had been holding her child when a wave swept her away. Luckily, she was able to grab on to a nearby tree.
But, the wave was so strong that she had to make a horrifying decision – she had to let go of her child, as she needed to hold on to the tree with both of her hands. Otherwise, she would have been swept further away by the wave. Tears were falling from her eyes as she recounted this story — she could not forgive herself for letting her child go. Still, I could see a glimmer of hope as she thanked me again. She walked away, hoping for a better life and a future.
I felt so sad then, and I can still feel her sadness. Her story affected me deeply. It taught me how life is very precious, and how lucky I am to be blessed and able to help others. Her story reconfirmed my commitment and passion about our shared humanity – and how some suffer and others never realize how fortunate they are in life.
Being a humanitarian is not always about “hands-on” aid delivery or being the first to jump into a disaster- or conflict-affected area. Nor is it about heroism or self-ego or self-love. It involves commitment to, and passion for, serving humanity, and respecting the unconditional value and dignity of each and every person.
To work in a humanitarian setting means facing personal challenges, of course. But I wouldn’t have stayed long in this kind of work if I didn’t still feel that commitment and passion. I feel lucky, indeed, to be able to help others in need.
So, now if someone asks me what I do for a living, my answer is, “I am a humanitarian.”
Dino Satria is Program Manager & Emergency Response Coordinator in the CWS Indonesia office.