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World Humanitarian Day 2020

World Humanitarian Day

Today is World Humanitarian Day, commemorating aid workers who are killed or injured in the course of their work, and those who continue to serve others despite the odds.

Humanitarian aid is intended to save lives and preserve dignity in the face of disaster, human-made or otherwise. It also seeks to strengthen preparedness for such disasters. Humanitarian aid situates itself within overlapping and accelerating crises: climate change, forced displacement, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global inequality, to name a few. World Humanitarian Day specifically designates the August 19th, 2003, bombing of the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, which killed 22 people. That tragedy illustrated the extreme risk to 21st century aid workers.

The Changing Face of Aid

Aid workers were not always considered targets but the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, plus subsequent overlap among military and humanitarian operations, eviscerated local trust in outside actors. As a result, aid orgs had to prioritize worker safety like never before, separating workers from the populations they were meant to serve. Today, many organizations run remote field offices staffed by locals, while international workers serve in more secure locations, like capital cities.*

As natural and human-made disaster overlap and exacerbate one another, the humanitarian aid sector has learned from local responsiveness. The word “aid” often evokes images of vaccines, pounds of rice distributed, and debris removed. These life-saving services are essential. But another key aspect of humanitarian aid is upholding human dignity. How does an organization deliver aid without disempowering the recipients? Local leaders provide partner organizations and humanitarian aid headquarters with critical insight into their communities.

CWB – USA and Humanitarian Aid

CWB is a small non-profit, and we have the honor of partnering with local leaders who often include the field office employees of a larger NGO or humanitarian aid organization. These individuals champion CWB. They know when it’s the right time for clowns, and when it’s too soon. Field staff work longer hours when they partner with us, buying props, procuring snacks, providing translation, and documenting the show. They also become involved in the whimsy of producing a clown tour! CWB is immensely grateful to recent humanitarian aid tour partners Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados-Ecuador (SJR-EC) and Gift of the Givers, which supported CWB on our Ecuador and Zimbabwe tours, respectively.

We’re able to do our work because we know that aid workers are providing essential services and material support—ensuring survival so healing can begin. Clowns are not emergency providers, and they don’t “make someone laugh.” Instead, CWB artists try to enlarge that healing space by inviting audiences to gather in levity and emotional relief. Aid workers are part of our audience, too. It’s deeply moving to see aid workers laughing alongside the communities they serve and live within.

Humanitarian aid is often talked about in huge numbers and insurmountable odds. Today, CWB – USA celebrates the resilience of aid workers and the intimate moments when we’re able to connect through laughter.

*For more on this topic, see The New Humanitarian: “COVID-19 changed the world. Can it change aid too?” 

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