What is World Humanitarian Day?

Hands of kids and adults holding a globeWith the school year beginning in a few weeks, almost everyone is scrambling to prepare for the fall semester. Many students may already have started their back-to-school shopping for textbooks and other school supplies along with shoes, clothing, and laptops—maybe even furniture if they’re going to college out of town and living off campus.

With that said, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in one’s own tasks and responsibilities, especially if you’re starting life as a new college student—whether you’re a freshman or transferring from another school. That’s why Florida National University (FNU) urges students everywhere to take a moment to recognize World Humanitarian Day.

What is World Humanitarian Day?

World Humanitarian Day is officially recognized on August 19, about a week before the fall semester starts, which is Monday, August 29. So it’s understandable how this observance day might get overlooked. Yet, FNU doesn’t want that to be the case this year. World Humanitarian Day recognizes people who have dedicated their time to increasing the public’s understanding of what it means to help improve the welfare and happiness of the underprivileged. August 19 not only recognizes those who are actively working toward this goal, but also those who have lost their lives or have been injured working for this cause.

How is it Different from World Refugee Day?

While there are strong similarities between World Humanitarian Day and World Refugee Day, the latter “highlights the importance of caring and aiding refugees” as noted in the “How You Can Make a Positive Difference on World Refugee Day article posted here. World Humanitarian Day focuses on recognizing those who are actively making a positive difference—so much so that some have even sacrificed their life for it.

How This Observance Came to Be

Just like World Refugee Day, World Humanitarian Day was nominated by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). Yet, World Humanitarian Day was originally created as a homage to the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. However, it turned out to be an observance day to be recognized all over the globe, not just in a certain region.

How Do People Recognize This Day?

There are no symbols or logos that reflect this observance day because while the UN may have designated this day, “it doesn’t ‘belong’ to the UN or any other agency or organization.” It’s also not considered a public holiday either. As a result, the UN simply encourages people all over the world to recognize and celebrate humanitarians, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be on August 19.

Recognizing situations that affect the well being of people’s lives like The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey discussion panels that have focused on “Moving beyond business as usual: Working together to reduce, need, risk and vulnerability” and “Strengthening the Role of African States for Effective Humanitarian Service Delivery”—these types of gatherings and events are what World Humanitarian Day is all about.

Perhaps you aren’t quite familiar with what a humanitarian looks like. That’s because they’re not always labeled as such. Humanitarians are often people who live ordinary lives conducting exemplary acts of kindness and selflessness.

Examples of Exemplary Humanitarians

Writer Mamta Bhatt listed some historical examples of humanitarians in an All That is Interesting article called, “The Seven Greatest Humanitarians in History” here:

  • Harriet Tubman – As an African slave, Tubman escaped slavery in America and risked her life to establish the Underground Railroad that helped approximately 70 slaves escape to freedom. Tubman also served as a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
  • Norman Borlaug – This gentleman was an American biologist who was responsible for developing a large quantity of disease-resistant wheat. Because of his research, Borlaug was able to feed masses of people who were starving in Pakistan and India.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – An African American also known as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sacrificed his life spearheading the Civil Rights Movement that advocated non-violent protests so that racial segregation might be abolished and African Americans and every other minority in the United States might also receive equal treatment socially, and within the labor and education sector.
  • Mother Teresa – An Albanian Catholic Nun who answered “the call within the call” of leaving the comfort of convent life and aiding to the “poorest of the poor” while living among them. Her selfless acts of organizing orphanages, schools, hospices, and homes for the sick were soon recognized all over the world.
  • Nelson Mandela – This South African humanitarian sacrificed his freedom so that racial segregation might be fully abolished. Mandela spent 27 years in prison because of his efforts. He eventually became the President of South Africa dedicating his office toward racial reconciliation and dissolving apartheid.
  • Mahatma Gandhi – Gandhi was an East Indian civil rights leader who fought for independence against the British government. He also led non-violent protests against discrimination, excessive land tax, women’s rights, religious freedom, and helping the poor. Britain eventually granted India independence in 1947.
  • Oskar Schindler – Schindler was a German and a member of the Nazi party. He used his position to aid approximately 1,700 Jews by employing them in his factory. He was able to save at least 1,200 Jews from being executed in 1944, and eventually went bankrupt bribing SS officials to keep his employees safe.

It could be argued that most of these humanitarians weren’t fully appreciated and/or recognized until after death. While some of their acts may have been noted, it usually isn’t until after they have passed away that you learn what all they endured for the betterment of other people. This is why we have World Humanitarian Day. And if it weren’t for the people aforementioned, you might not have the following people giving of their time and resources:

Celebrity Humanitarians

  • Cesar Chavez (Union Leader)
  • Oprah Winfrey (Television network producer/actress/author)
  • Charlize Theron (Actress)
  • Angelina Jolie (Actress)
  • George Clooney (Actor)
  • Sean Penn (Actor)
  • Bono (Musician)

Florida National University (FNU) wants to remind you that even while your scrambling to start your college career, you can help make a difference in the world. The best way to become a humanitarian is to be well informed. Our academic curriculum involves humanities and social science courses in most of our degree programs. Contact FNU today to learn more about the type of degree programs we have to offer.