History and Culture

Honoring World Humanitarian Day in the Middle of the Pandemic

Saluting humanitarian aid workers who continue to serve as the coronavirus rages across the world

Today, on World Humanitarian Day, Team Rubicon pays tribute to the women and men around the world who put service to the most vulnerable communities above self and who have stepped into an arena even when the odds are squarely against them. To all the humanitarian aid workers near and far we say thank you. And for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we honor their commitment by striving to build a more equitable world.

This World Humanitarian Day we, the collective citizens of the world, find ourselves in the grip of a global pandemic. It has been 161 days since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic. In that time, the world has seen more than 725,000 deaths worldwide, with more than 170,000in the United States.

From mandatory quarantines and stay-at-home orders to border closures and a virtual shut down of the global economy, the way in which we all live, and the way in which humanitarian aid has been delivered, has been dramatically altered, exacerbating existing crisis around the world.

Across the United States, COVID lay bare the divides in income inequality, food security, and access to health care. For the nearly 40% of American citizens who struggle to find $400 in an emergency, the dramatic economic shutdown, furloughs, and layoffs exacerbated an already tenuous situation.

Exercising Humanitarian Principles at Home

In response Team Rubicon, almost overnight, shifted its service delivery priorities to support the COVID response. Around the U.S., Greyshirts put down their chainsaws and shovels and picked up boxes of food and served in shelters for persons experiencing homelessness, leaning into areas that the organization traditionally left to partner organizations. Team Rubicon medical care providers, normally postured for rapid overseas deployments, found themselves serving in hospitals and COVID testing sites in their own backyard.

But we couldn’t do this alone. It takes a village.

A medical volunteer at the Navajo Nation, in Arizona.

Shoulder-to-shoulder with partners like Feeding America and Meals on Wheels, Greyshirts began staffing foodbanks and directly delivering meals to at-risk individuals. In Kayenta, Arizona, at the Navajo Nation, Greyshirt medical providers worked with Indian Health Services providing lifesaving medical care to a community with the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita in the United States.

In partnership with the Bristol Meyers Squibb Foundation and the Patient Advocacy Foundation, Team Rubicon launched the Emergency Food Assistance Program to provide direct support to immuno-compromised individuals unable to conduct daily activities such as grocery shopping due to an elevated risk of severe COVID complications.

Another Fight Ahead for Humanitarian Aid Workers

Team Rubicon Greyshirts and our partners have risen to the challenges in front of them. Unfortunately, COVID is only the beginning. The diversion of already scarce resources to support COVID outbreak responses around the world will have consequences that will be felt for decades to come.

Delivering food and water in Virginia.

The World Bank estimates that for the first time in 30 years, global poverty rates will increase and that the pandemic will thrust 40 to 60 million people into extreme poverty, or to the point where they must survive on less than $1.90 a day. The World Food Program estimates that the number of people facing acute food insecurity in low- and middle-income countries will swell to 265 million by the end of 2020. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recognize that stalled measles and diphtheria vaccination campaigns around the world will have dire consequences for millions of children.

There is no shortage of challenges ahead.

We are lucky that humanitarians continue to stand up whether in their home countries or around the world. Some have made it their life’s work to provide medical care, eradicate poverty, increase access to education, and promote civil society and good governance; others have simply found it their mission during the pandemic.

So, whether you’re adorned by a red cross, operate without borders, or wear a grey shirt, on this World Humanitarian Day we at Team Rubicon thank you for your continued dedication to causes bigger than yourself.

Zachary Brooks-Miller

Army veteran Zachary Brooks-Miller currently serves as the Team Rubicon's Director of Field Operations. Over the last decade, he has worked in program and operations management designing, implementing, and leading collaborative lifesaving projects around the world. You can find him taking on the outdoors during his free time.