Our projects in Ukraine that you may have read about before, such as the youth groups and orphanages, remain safe and far from the fighting. But we are greatly distressed by the fighting, destruction, and suffering further east and are exploring ways to safely get aid through to the region. Recently we were thrilled to read news from a former colleague that a very excited team from the International Red Cross has been able to get a convoy of aid through to the town of Debaltseve, which has seen heavy fighting. You can read about the mission on their site. They have very significant security arrangements but we can learn from their experience of this delivery and hopefully make a safe and successful delivery to eastern Ukraine before too long.
Meanwhile, although we’ve had no overland convoys over the winter, Aid Convoy’s director Kieran Turner has been busy talking at conferences and seminars — naturally part of our aim is always to raise awareness of the situations in our target projects, particularly about places like Albania and Ukraine, for which there is often little publicity. But the most recent events have also focussed on supporting students who are keen to get involved in the humanitarian sector. These events included the fourth annual “Health in Humanitarian Settings Research Symposium” at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and a careers day at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute in the University of Manchester where he spoke alongside Dan Smith, Secretary General of International Alert, and the University’s Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs, Professor Mukesh Kapila.
It’s hugely encouraging that the University of Manchester now includes this relatively new institute, which runs a range of Masters-level courses in the field of humanitarianism. Taken together with the long-established Peace Studies department at the University of Bradford, and (local to Aid Convoy) the highly aid-aware Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, it seems like the north of England is nurturing quite a centre of excellence in the field! More to the point, it’s great to see the relevant skill-sets being developed by academic teams focussed on better understanding of the causes of, and solutions to international health and security disasters. Sometimes the community of aid organisations themselves – especially those linked to national governments – can develop a politicised and even blinkered view. There is often also a tension between voluntary and “professional” (i.e. paid) organisations, ranging from staff motivation through to resource-use efficiency. We therefore thoroughly support the growth of the academic overview of the sector as a whole, and look forward to being part of the ongoing conversation!
Happy “World Humanitarian Day” everyone!
We don’t normally go in for self-aggrandising but today seems like an appropriate moment to acknowledge the fact that Aid Convoy would not have achieved what it has – and indeed would not exist at all – were it not for volunteers.
Over the years, hundreds of people have devoted their time, energy, and resources to our projects. We like to think of what we do as “sharing”, as much as “donating”. And often we have witnessed our volunteers giving far more of their own resources than they have collected from fundraising efforts. It’s been very moving at times (and sometimes we’ve had to step in and urge people to pace themselves). It’s common for people to extend their commitment beyond what they initially envisaged, because the work can be quite addictive. Many regular volunteers spend their entire annual leave from work involved in projects. One of the advantages of the convoy model is the team spirit and camaraderie which also gives the ability for peer-support and keeping a healthy eye on each other.
So today, since it is World Humanitarian Day, we thought we’d acknowledge those people who really have gone way above and beyond the call of duty. We won’t make a list of names because that would upset some of the people involved who really don’t do it for any kind of personal gain. But they know who they are: donors, drivers, collectors, knitters, nurses, suppliers, dancers, musicians, pharmacists, clowns, photographers, manufacturers, all of you — thank you.
Finally let’s mention too that World Humanitarian Day is being used to highlight a vital issue: that the risks to humanitarians have never been more serious. Attacks on aid workers are increasing. People are regularly caught in dangerous situations and are not respected in the way that perhaps battlefield medics, for example, once were. The red cross, red crescent, and red diamond symbols are no longer avoided by those firing missiles. Ambulances we have donated to Gaza and Syria have been actively targeted in attacks designed to destroy hope. Kidnappings are a routine source of funding for many armed groups. Local volunteers from beneficiary countries are at risk as well as foreign expatriates. And this problem is exacerbated by the inexcusable abuse of the status of humanitarians. Those who used the cover of a vaccination campaign to gather intelligence in Pakistan are highly culpable in this; the controversy over the current Russian aid convoy to Ukraine also demonstrates the issue and dilutes faith in aid operations. Neutrality and independence are vital and we should never stand for any military or government agency, or indeed political or religious campaign group posing as aid workers or manipulating deliveries under any circumstances.