The young people redefining what it means to be a humanitarian

19 August 2020

World Humanitarian Day recognises the efforts of aid workers around the world who, this year, have faced challenges unlike ever before. Five young people share their experiences.

Theresia, Lebanon

Theresia from North Lebanon

Theresia, from North Lebanon, is involved with a local project that brings together young Lebanese and Syrian people.

Following the recent explosions in Beirut, Theresia Sarkis, 22, from Koura, Northern Lebanon, was immediately on the frontline, distributing food to families in need. However, it is her ongoing action that she hopes will help solve the problems in her home country.

“Even before this crisis, Lebanon was suffering. Youth unemployment was at an all-time high, and the proportion of Lebanese nationals living below the poverty line has just topped 30 per cent.

“I started volunteering six years ago to help the hundreds of thousands of [Syrian] refugees who were arriving. With my volunteering, I was invited to appear as a speaker and delegate at a UN conference, attended by world leaders and delegates from 56 countries.

“Young people can affect the older generation’s opinion and should take the chance to do so.”

Donate to the Beirut Emergency Appeal

Ryan, UK

CAFOD Young Leader speaking

Ryan Wilkinson talks about meeting CAFOD partners during a trip to Lebanon.

Ryan Wilkinson, 23, a youth officer in Leeds, met Syrian refugees and youth volunteers on a charity trip to Lebanon in 2017. Since visiting, he has campaigned to improve the rights and opportunities for young people in the country, even speaking about his experiences at Wembley Arena.

“My visit to Lebanon has had such a large, positive impact on my life and has made me want to encourage others to learn more about the refugee crisis.

“There were times during my visit where it left me emotionally drained as I was hearing many emotional stories about what people are going through, and I wanted to share these to inspire change.

“My experiences in Beirut really did change my outlook on life - my understanding of the suffering, and challenges going on in the world, and how in simple ways we can all make a difference.”

Donate to the Beirut Emergency Appeal

Collins, Bangladesh

Project officer for Caritas Bangladesh

Collins, a project officer for Caritas Bangladesh, decided to stay in Cox’s Bazar and help the Rohingya people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Collins Lawrence, 28, is the coordinator for charity Caritas Bangladesh’s Child Protection Project in Cox’s Bazar camp for Rohingya refugees. He believes that by standing alongside communities during the toughest times, we can build a better future.

“Yes, I am afraid. I do fear what’s happening around me. But I feel that reaching out to the hardest-to-reach people when they need us should be one of the most important driving forces for any humanitarian worker, anywhere.

“I knew that our presence at the side of the Rohingya people must not be wiped out due to the coronavirus threat. People told us that they were glad that they hadn't been forgotten.

“If we can be by their sides during this crisis and make them feel that they are not alone, this will have a huge impact for years to come.”

How CAFOD is responding to the Rohingya crisis

Micaela, Peru

Micaela from Peru

Micaela participates in activities that help children understand their rights, learn how to voice their needs and influence local public policies.

After seeing violence and injustice in her community, Micaela, 16, decided to act. The young activist became a representative on the consultative council: a council for young people which works at a district and national level to bring about change to help better protect children and young people’s rights. 

“The council teaches us that we all can do big things and that we have great potential, and this must be made known. We are as interesting, as intelligent and as important as other children in other parts of the world. We are all equal and we can do great things, it doesn’t matter what our age is.

“My message would be that all children and young people, everyone can do something, even something small, and we will achieve it.”

Read more about CAFOD's work in Peru

Mustafa, Syria

There is strong concern for people living in Syrian camps where overcrowding makes social distancing almost impossible. 

There is strong concern for people living in Syrian camps where overcrowding makes social distancing almost impossible. 

Mustafa, 28, a frontline worker, lives in a camp outside Idlib with displaced people. He explained how years of war, hunger, and displacement have made the people of Syria extremely vulnerable. Despite the challenges, he has hope that countries will pull together.

“People in camps know that there is a virus called coronavirus but haven’t seen the risk or danger if the virus spreads. So, they try to live their lives normally. And, when you need to feed your family, you will work despite all dangers.

“The essence of humanity always tells us that although we are from different races, places, it doesn’t matter. Right now, we are witnessing disaster and if we don’t work together, to help each other, we will lose so much."

Millions of refugees face new threat from coronavirus

World Humanitarian Day

On 19 August 2020 we celebrate the courage and compassion of our local aid workers who are on the front line of emergencies around the world – the local aid experts, volunteers and priests who do everything in their power to ensure that aid gets through to those who need it most.

CAFOD works through local church and non-Church networks to provide aid in remote areas. We’re part of Caritas International – a coalition of 165 Catholic agencies around the world – so our network has local expertise in almost every country in the world.

Thanks to your support, these local experts are able to provide aid in remote areas that many agencies struggle to reach.

Find out how you can support CAFOD's emergency response work

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