Reflections from a humanitarian worker

by oxfamcanada | August 19, 2017
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Partners and community define our humanitarian work. 

Her excitement was contagious.

Renata Dia stood at the base of the brand new water tap. The solar-powered water system was only a few meters away and she was gazing at it with delight and gratitude. She was surrounded by her four children and over 20 L of water collection containers, varying in size.

Renata lives in a host community outside Nduta Refugee Camp. Refugees in Nduta Camp share water supplies with the host communities in the region. This has created a shortage of access to safe water systems.

Renata is a powerhouse. She farms cassava, beans and maize, which she feeds to her family and sells to generate income. Renata, like most women in Nduta, uses up to 100 L of water per day to sustain her family and farming activities. To put that in perspective, each Canadian use an average of 329 L of water per day.

Renata described the 6 km walk she, like many others, would take each day to get water. Each day, she would walk from her village to the nearest river – alone or with her children. She described how frightened and tired she used to be. Her voice is sombre as she describes the duress she and her family used to face. The road to the river is used by thousands of village residents. This meant that it was high traffic, yet isolated. Close to 4 hours a day would be spent collecting water to run their household.

Today, Renata walks 5 minutes to a water tap near her home, where she collects water to drink, clean and farm on her land. As I spoke with her, her children agreed that their quality of life has vastly improved. The children are happier, Renata points out, and much safer. They are safer, and they feel safer, I think to myself. But how many women and girls are not? For the hundredth time this week, I am struck by how much impact our work has had — yet I can’t shake thinking about how much more work there is to do.

For me, meeting with the people we serve and understanding the community is the most important part of my job as a humanitarian worker. -Simmi Dixit

For me, meeting with the people we serve and understanding the community is the most important part of my job as a humanitarian worker.  Renata is one of tens of millions of people that are affected by the refugee crisis and are facing a range of risks in her daily life. Over the last year, we worked together with community leaders to establish how we could best serve them. The community told us what they needed and together we established the most effective ways to work together over time.

In turn, Oxfam built 2 solar powered water supply systems, dug 10 boreholes and built 24 water taps to increase access to clean water. We also built hand-washing stations, toilets, water tanks and pipelines. Running taps, clean, safe drinking water— in Canada, things people can take for granted.

I reflect on how safe and privileged I am. We are so removed from the realities faced by people who, by fate, were born into lives so different from our own. Despite this, it is important to always remember our common humanity.

In Canada, it’s difficult to understand how aid dollars reach those most in need. It is important for Canadians to realize that our awareness and support has a profound impact on people’s lives. Days like World Humanitarian Day remind Canadians about the work that we do on the ground — and that despite the distance, we can work together to make lasting changes in the day-to-day lives of those most in need. And on days like today, I can tell others about how incredibly meaningful these changes are to people like Renata and her family.

I learn so much from the communities we serve. I am truly inspired by their resilience, gratitude and ability to find creative solutions when their basic needs aren’t met. Water, education, safety and healthcare are luxuries that are not afforded to everyone on this planet. On World Humanitarian Day, I honour our humanitarian partners, communities, and the individuals we serve — they define the work that we do.

This World Humanitarian Day, I want us to do 3 things together:

(1)  Honour humanitarian workers. The majority of humanitarian workers are local workers who face tremendous risks when providing assistance. We must pay tribute to those who have lost their lives.

(2) Reflect on our common humanity. Think about how different your life could have been, had you been born elsewhere. We must remember that we are more alike, than different.

(3) Take action. Lend your voice to a World Humanitarian Day campaign, donate to Oxfam’s humanitarian work, hug your favourite humanitarian worker…. you decide.

Simmi Dixit is the Humanitarian Program Officer at Oxfam Canada. Simmi recently visited the Nduta Refugee Camp in western Tanzania to support the teams in Tanzania who are implementing Oxfam Canada’s water, sanitation and livelihood support projects. 

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