#notatarget — This was the theme of the World Humanitarian Day 2017, which was observed on 19 August. Again, there have been a number of incidents this year where humanitarian aid workers have been purposefully targeted, kidnapped, injured and killed. This day is a good opportunity to recognise humanitarian workers for what they contribute to society and to the world, and for the high price they often pay for being engaged.

Recognition can be a powerful opportunity for healing for those who were targeted and have to live with the resulting injuries, both visible and invisible.

I know, I ‘ve been there. I’ve been a target. I also received recognition.

It was on a cold and grey November day in 2007, at the 30th International Red Cross Red Crescent conference in Geneva, when I found myself standing on the stage in a large hall, with lots of delegates from all over the world, together with James Carlton from Australia, Alexander Dumba Ika from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Josiah Gabel from France.

The occasion was the awarding of the Henry Dunant Medal, which is awarded every two years by the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

At that time it was a somewhat awkward experience, being on stage in front of all those people, listening to speeches and receiving a medal and a huge certificate.

However, and not right away, deep within myself something clicked: for the first time in 11 years I knew I didn’t have to hide an experience that gave a huge blow to my career development, leaving an unexplainable gap in my CV around years of inability to find and keep a job. Suddenly, years of disorientation, of feeling inadequate, insecure, unable to commit and generally being able to make sense of the direction my life was taking, came to an end. My sense of self and empowerment in my work life and career, which had been destroyed in an atrocious experience, with botched recovery efforts years earlier, were magically restored by a finely crafted and symbolic piece of metal bestowed in a public act of recognition.

The healing it caused is hard to describe, yet it was immediate and palpable.

Not that a medal can instantaneously heal any terrible experience, yet it contributes, and the power of recognition is deep and lasting.

As a Humanitarian worker, have you ever been given any personal recognition? Has society, or even only your employer, ever recognized you for your sacrifices and your willingness to venture into dangerous environments to help others? This may have been in small ways or maybe in big, maybe as a one-off or maybe regularly?

August 19 – World Humanitarian Day – is a perfect occasion to do just that. If you are reading this, and you are not an aid worker yourself, this would be a perfect opportunity to express your appreciation to someone who is doing humanitarian work, even if they work in your own local environment, helping vulnerable and disadvantaged people.


The author, Christoph Hensch, started working in 1989 with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for many years and in numerous countries. In 1996, Christoph was injured in an attack on a Red Cross facility. He was awarded the ‘Henri Dunant’ Medal, recognizing his «outstanding service and acts of great devotion» in his humanitarian work.

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