People helping people in solidarity

19 Aug 2013   |   Blog   |   Emergency Relief

World Humanitarian Day is a time to recognise those who face danger and adversity in order to help others. The day was designated by the General Assembly to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, which killed 21 UN staff.

Melville Fernandez

Every day humanitarian aid workers help millions of people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are.

Melville Fernandez, Caritas Australia’s, Group Leader, Humanitarian Emergencies Group, took some time to reflect on the day which is a global celebration of people helping people.

Q: Today is World Humanitarian Day, and the theme this year calls on people to answer a question – “What do you think the world needs more of?” Do you have an answer to this?

Humanitarian workers are people who are helping other people in the most dire circumstances all over the world, all the time.

So by creating awareness of what these people do, I believe it not only increases the knowledge about what is going on in the world, but also what other people can do to make a difference in their daily lives.

I think the work we do can inspire others to act, which is what the world needs more of – people helping each other in solidarity.

Q: What’s it like to be a humanitarian worker and how long have you been in this field?

I had no knowledge of the humanitarian sector prior to working in it.

I started back in 1977 when I was fresh out of university. I had finished a Masters degree and intended to get into university teaching. But in December of the same year there was a severe cyclone and floods that hit the coastal belt of South India where I hail from.

Melville Fernandez at Nanyuki airport

So this gave me the opportunity to be involved in the relief operations and rehabilitation work there.

The exposure to the magnitude of the disaster, destruction and loss of lives both human and livestock was beyond what I could fathom. The extent of work required was immense and given the emergency situation I felt I could not abandon it.

Since then I have never looked back.

The exposure and experience to emergencies and disasters over the years everywhere from the Pacific, to the Congo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka during the tsunami and many more places, has enabled me to see and realise that not only the number and of natural and manmade disasters are increasing, but they are also getting more and more complex by the day.

Sadly this impacts on the most vulnerable communities, as well as the humanitarian workers who work in the forefront.

For me being a humanitarian worker is a challenging job, but I enjoy the challenge. If one has optimism, coupled with a concern for others, then it’s possible to make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Q: You work in the Emergencies team at Caritas, what does this involve?

Melville Fernandez in Marsabit, Kenya

At Caritas we work with our international partners and AusAID to deliver a strong, timely and efficient emergency response to disasters that strike. We also pride ourselves and have a strong reputation for accompanying our partners that we work alongside in various countries and try to build their capacity and community resilience to disasters.

Even though we have to often react to emergencies quickly, strategically we want our partners and the vulnerable communities they work with to be as prepared as possible for future emergencies that arise.

Caritas recognises that emergencies are both a ‘humanitarian’ and ‘development’ issue, and greater linkages between the two will be fostered, including the further integration of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), preparedness and resilience into relevant Caritas programs that adhere to international accountability standards.

Although immediate relief operations are essential during the critical emergency phase, longer-term solutions are also desperately needed to help build community resilience.

Q: How do you think Catholic Social Teaching Principles such as; Human Dignity, Subsidiarity, Solidarity and the Common Good align with our Emergencies support?

The fleeting nature of emergencies can see the international community move its focus from one disaster to the next.

During an emergency we don’t just carry out our own mandate. Caritas Australia accompanies our partners and works in solidarity with them to achieve a better outcome..."

Caritas Australia works differently. Under the principles of Catholic Social Teaching we are guided to be there with a community before, during and after the headlines.

We uphold human rights above everything in an emergency. Caritas will prioritise the development of community resilience, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) programs with a view of reaching and upholding the dignity of the poorest and most marginalised communities affected by emergencies.

During an emergency we don’t just carry out our own mandate. Caritas Australia accompanies our partners and works in solidarity with them to achieve a better outcome. Without this support of our partners and the communities we work in, we could not effectively and efficiently help people throughout a crisis.

Q: Today at Caritas on World Humanitarian Day we’re focussing on the crisis in Syria … how bad is the situation there and what is Caritas Australia doing to help?

Caritas volunteers in Madaba give Syrian refugees blankets and hygiene kits.

The crisis in Syria continues to worsen. More than 100,000 people have lost their lives and at least 8.3 million Syrians have been displaced with more than 1.6 million seeking registration in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The international Caritas network is currently delivering humanitarian programs across Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. However, at this stage, Caritas Australia is focused on supporting programs for refugees and vulnerable host community members in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Given the grim outlook and long-term protracted nature of this crisis, Caritas Australia is seeking additional funds to support the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts of the CI network. Caritas was recently successful in obtaining $1.5 million of funding through the Australian Government’s Humanitarian Partnership Agreement.

We have also opened an appeal for the Syrian Crisis and call on all Australians to stand in solidarity with these families who are trying to find safety and security, and to meet their basic needs.

Q: Caritas has launched an appeal, how will the money raised through this help Syrian refugees and host communities?

We urgently need more funds so that we can provide emergency assistance to many vulnerable people who have left their belongings, homes and livelihoods to escape the devastating conflict.

So far, the United Nations has confirmed that only about 37% of the $4.4 billion in funding required for the crisis has been pledged.

Syrian refugees attend a Caritas mobile health clinic in Taalabaya

Caritas Australia is working with our Caritas partners to deliver humanitarian support to Syrian refugees including; food, rent assistance, heaters and blankets, primary medical care, counselling and schooling for children.

We are also supporting vulnerable members of the communities who have accepted the refugees (host communities) in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, who are facing a huge rise in the cost of living and increasing pressure under the large inflow of refugees

We honour and thank our Caritas partners, staff and volunteers on World Humanitarian Day as they work tirelessly to help so many families rebuild their lives, but at this time we also appeal to our Australian community for their generous support.

Find out more or donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal

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