By Natalie Jacobsen

What does it mean to be a humanitarian? Humanitarians are the heart of Mercy Corps, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, serving and supporting those in need around the world since 1979. Mercy Corps is built on the foundation of alleviating the suffering of millions from poverty and oppression. Their mission is “to build secure, productive, and just communities.”
 
This is the core of what is means to be a humanitarian: to work with the world’s most vulnerable peoples, to provide more than just emergency aid as temporary relief, and instill long-lasting, life-changing resilience throughout communities. Humanitarians selflessly put others before them, empowering others by getting them on their feet, food in their hands, means for a steady income and a roof over their heads. They ensure that programs are effective, drive innovation to achieve missions and raise funds in order to serve more. 
 
A humanitarian isn’t always in the field or working directly with the communities they serve; sometimes, a humanitarian is sitting at a desk, meeting with a donor, making a donation, joining a march, or discussing with friends, family or coworkers both the need and the incredible success that Mercy Corps has in alleviating poverty and providing restorative aid. 
 
We interviewed three humanitarians, of a five thousand-strong team, from Mercy Corps, asking them about their experiences through a variety of programs and projects across the organization. Most of Mercy Corps’ humanitarians – roughly 87% – are from the areas they are working, ensuring the humanitarians are knowledgeable and aware of the community’s needs even before the work begins. 
 
What we learned from them is their endless determination to uplift a community from the ground up – literally. Agriculture is often the root of many community issues; when given the education and tools to farm, a community can thrive on nourishment, income and honest work. Then, Mercy Corps humanitarians work to get aid, resources and programs established to create economically sound environments and support them on a humane level by giving children schools, managing political conflicts, preventing disasters and providing health care needs.
 
Mercy Corps’ partnership with Global Impact broadens the horizon and ways Mercy Corps can further make a positive impact through exposure, access to donors, high impact funds and more. Over the past 40 years Mercy Corps has developed the programs they offer, going beyond disaster relief to a much larger portfolio of project types and missions and growing the countries they serve from three at foundation to over 40 today.
 
The humanitarians we spoke with detailed their projects and the difference they make across their regions, showcasing vastly differing experiences under one organization. Their profiles illuminate the widespread aid efforts that happen – rarely do we have a chance to truly look “under the hood” and see the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes that helps make each mission a success.
 
Sarah Saleeb
Program Officer, Middle East Programs (works out of Headquarters in Portland, Oregon)
  1. What does it mean to you to be a humanitarian?
    To me, being a humanitarian means listening and responding thoughtfully. At the core of being a humanitarian is recognizing that the ultimate goal is to empower the communities we are working in. The members of these communitiesSarah Saleeb know these communities best and it is our role to make their voices are heard and incorporated into any emergency response. Being a humanitarian also means responding to some of the most challenge situations – situations that have been recently affected by a natural disaster or in the midst of conflict. However, recognizing where we’re able to provide a value add is key. 
  2. What do you do to advance the humanitarian efforts of Mercy Corps?
    From my point of view, the Country Team is the one really advancing the humanitarian efforts of Mercy Corps. I play a supporting role to our Iraq Country Team, linking the Country Team with other headquarters teams and with our institutional donors. In my role, I work on proposal development for our institutional donors (such as the U.S. Government) and working with our Iraq team to meet donor-related deadlines. I also serve as a focal point for our Iraq team so if there are any program-related questions that headquarters can support on, they’re able to reach out directly to me. On the flip side, I also provide updates at headquarters regarding our programming in Iraq so in essence it’s a two-way link between the country office and the headquarters office.
  3. Who are you aiming to help? 
    In a supportive role, I ensure that our field teams, in this case the Iraq team, have the necessary support from headquarters in order to do their jobs effectively and then are able to respond to the needs of participants in Iraq. 
  4. Share a story of a particular time you recognized the impact of your efforts and what the impact was. 
    I had the opportunity to lead a proposal for one of our U.S. Government donors. Leading a proposal meant I worked closely with the Country Team to capture their design for the program and capture their vision in a concise way for our donor. This took over a month of coordination, calls, writing and rewriting. Ultimately, this was a successful proposal that allowed us to continue providing water, sanitation & hygiene, protection and livelihoods support for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese in Lebanon.

    Opportunities to travel to our country offices and visit our program sites are when I get to see the impact of the support work I provide. As I primarily sit at headquarters, my visibility on the day-to-day implementation of our programs is limited. However, when I do get to see the child-friendly spaces in Zaatari camp in Jordan, or the youth centers for Jordanian and Syrian youth, I better understand how all of the pieces of the different proposals, reports, and work plans I’ve written and reviewed come to life. 

Amelia Gita Tifani
Program Support Officer/Volunteer Coordinator for POWER program (Indonesia)
  1. What does it mean to you to be a humanitarian? 
    To keep checking the privileges that we have, while we creating solution on problem solving. POWER program which supported by John Deere was established on the needs to solve the problem on how smallholders farmers increase their Amelia Gita Tifaniincome, because most of the smallholders farmers has been facing challenge to obtain income that enough to sustain their family. 

    [As far as being a humanitarian at Mercy Corps, it also means] to not to stop the learning opportunities that Mercy Corps through POWER program has provided, which the learning itself also includes learning new skills and also understanding the process of every targeted goals and also learning and knowing about the people we reached as beneficiaries to create strong bond of trust.

  2. Who are you aiming to help?
    As I also believe by how POWER Program believe on the farmers future as food security main actor in the future, I would like to help the farmer community to establish great business, so they can strive in better way to fulfill their family needs while also keep provide food for the more generations to come.
  3. Share a story of a particular time you recognized the impact of your efforts and what the impact was.
    Amelia Gita TifaniIt was more of the POWER team efforts as a program that works directly with farmers that resulted in the seen impact. For the example, when I need to coordinate the John Deere Asia Volunteerism, we need to establish relationships with the farming communities; and establishing great relationships with a strong bond of trust doesn’t come instantly. The POWER team has been approaching communities for the goals of the program itself. Since the program has great perception of the farming communities, it has eased up our efforts to do necessary coordination and ultimately manage the volunteerism activities.
Carolyn Lang
Intern for Mercy Corps Colombia team’s response to the Venezuela crisis
  1. What does it mean to you to be a humanitarian?
    To me, being a humanitarian means seeing opportunity for positive change amidst complexity, and always striving to use your strengths and skills to help make that change. I also believe that being a humanitarian means seeing the best in people, and having a passion for working alongside people from all different backgrounds to make the global community more inclusive and equitable for all.Carolyn Lang
  2. What do you do to advance the humanitarian efforts of Mercy Corps?
    I support Mercy Corps Colombia’s response to the humanitarian crisis currently happening in Venezuela. This entails assisting in various phases of our multi-purpose cash assistance program – including project start-up, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation – to understand and measure the program’s impact on our participants’ lives. I also work with our Bogota-based and field teams to help ensure that all of the cash assistance work we do adheres to Mercy Corps and international humanitarian standards. 
  3. Who are you aiming to help?
    Mercy Corps’ emergency assistance program aims to support thousands of vulnerable Venezuelans and Colombians in Colombia to meet their immediate needs. By distributing ATM cards and depositing several cash transfers, Mercy Corps empowers program participants to meet their unique needs – for example, shelter, water, sanitation, non-food items, health, or communications – and in turn, reduce their protection risks. Recognizing the often heightened vulnerabilities experienced by women and young children in humanitarian situations, the program also provides additional cash support to these populations.
  4. Share a story of a particular time you recognized the impact of your efforts and what the impact was. 
    When I was in La Guajira – Colombia’s northern-most department – in June, I had the chance to speak to a Venezuelan family of five girls: the oldest told me how much she loved to go to school, the Carolyn Langyoungest was less than one year old, and the other three looked at me with the most infectious smiles. Their father expressed his sadness that his daughters were unable to grow up in their home country, but also expressed his deep hope and belief that “that there will be a time when Venezuela can be our home again. A time in which my daughters will know their home, and that their home may know peace.” It is so essential to see the people currently experiencing crisis as individuals with their own stories, passions, and needs, when they are far too often regarded as statistics. My experience with this family made me proud to support an organization that has been able to – even in a small way – help improve their current situation, and further spurred me to continue my work in this field.
If you’re looking to make a tangible difference, Mercy Corps is an exemplary charity that provides around the clock attention, care, support, and follow-up to communities in need around the world, facing crisis from natural disasters, war, agricultural deficiency and poverty. 
 
In celebration of World Humanitarian Day on Aug. 19, help us raise awareness and appreciation for all that humanitarians accomplish every day. Whether you show support for humanitarians individually, or with a company, here are three ways you can celebrate:
  1. Find your cause. Read up on a current humanitarian issue so you can better understand the needs of a local community. Knowledge is power — it is vital to raising awareness, strategic grant-making at a corporate level, or ensuring that your personal donations are maximizing your potential impact. 
  2. Volunteer outside your comfort zone. Being a humanitarian involves immersing yourself in another culture, socioeconomic group or community. Volunteering can provide this experience. Look for opportunities in your local community, organize an experiential engagement opportunity with Global Impact for your company/department and take time to reflect as a group or with family and friends on your experience and what you learned. 
  3. Give. Support the work of on-the-ground teams working in local communities. Without funding, their work is not possible. 
Learn more about how Global Impact lifts up the work of Mercy Corps and supports their mission to tackle the world’s toughest challenges in mobilizing vulnerable people and communities worldwide.
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