For people like Richard Johannessen, the work day never really ends. Whether he’s responding to emails late into the night from his office in Bangkok, or visiting a remote village in Laos, figuring out how to improve access to clean water, his responsibilities weigh heavily on him every day. After all, people’s lives depend on him.
Rick is World Concern’s Asia Area Director, and his work is much more than a job. After a successful career in international business, Richard returned to a calling he’s had since he was young: serving the poor through humanitarian work.
Aug. 19 is World Humanitarian Day, founded in 2009 to honor and celebrate people like Richard who serve day in and day out in difficult places and often dangerous situations for the good of others.
But who are humanitarian workers? The answer is that they, their skills, and their backgrounds, are as diverse as the countries where they work. They respond to disasters and solve complex problems. They save lives and meet the most basic human needs: food, water, shelter, and medical care. Long term, they lead vulnerable people to a place where they have a self-sustaining, healthy future.
World Concern is blessed to have staff members who feel called to this line of work. Some have personally experienced tragedy, loss, war and famine and want to help end suffering for others.
Christon Domond is one of those people. Christon has worked with World Concern in his homeland of Haiti for more than 20 years, despite offers for more prestigious and lucrative positions in the U.S. He grew up in Haiti in a family with nine children, and has chosen to serve those in his country who are close to his heart. After the earthquake, Christon immediately checked on the safety of his staff, then pulled everyone together and coordinated their response.
Selina Prem Kumar serves as a lifeline to vulnerable people as country director in war-torn Sri Lanka. As Selina helps victims of civil war, she also helps bridge peace between the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples—something she is uniquely qualified to do as a Tamil married to a Sinhalese man. In 2009 Selina helped evacuate 30,000 war-affected civilians who needed medical care and safe shelter. Today, she’s helping people rebuild their lives and heal the deep wounds caused by war.
According to the UN, the danger for humanitarian workers is very real and it is increasing. Just this month, ten aid workers were murdered in Afghanistan—lined up and executed. Among those killed were Thomas Grams, a dentist from Colorado who gave up his private practice to do relief work, Karen Woo, a surgeon who left a comfortable life in London to pregnant mothers in remote regions, and Cheryl Beckett, the daughter of a pastor and student at Indiana Wesleyan University who had been working as a translator for female patients in Afghanistan since 2005. They sacrificed everything to serve the most desperate people.
World Concern President David Eller says it all goes back to the calling. “When it doesn’t make sense—when I have trouble explaining to my mother why I’m getting on a plane to Haiti right after an earthquake, all I can tell her is that this is the right thing, and I know in my heart of hearts that this is what God has given me to do. This is what God has given the organization to do. You’ll hear that from all the people throughout World Concern: This is what I’m called to do.”