The death of Kayla Mueller of Prescott, Ariz., is a sobering reminder of just how dangerous the world can be for aid workers. The news sent waves of sorrow through humanitarian groups and the people who work for them — and raised many questions. We posed some to Trevor Hughes of International Relief and Development and Joel Charny of InterAction:
Is the world a more dangerous place for aid workers today? Hughes: Fifteen years ago, there was a kind of assumption that being a humanitarian gave you some level of protection. Obviously things have changed.
How so? What’s different in the way warring parties view aid workers? Charny: [The view is] if you’re not with us, you’re against us.
If you were a new volunteer or aid worker, what questions would you ask of an organization? Hughes: If you’re going to be traveling to a field site, ask: Who’s going to meet you at the airport, how will you know it’s them, how will they know it’s you, what happens if you show up and there’s no one there? You can see if they have protocols in place and share them. And those questions will get you to the group’s security person, because the recruiter won’t have those details. … If you’re going into an extraordinarily violent situation, like Syria, you need to ask yourself if that’s the place for volunteers. There’s a lot of hurt in this world; a lot of people need help. If you’re a doctor with serious wartime emergency room skills and you’re going in with an organization that’s established clinics in wartime situation, that makes sense. But make sure you’re not volunteering blindly or inappropriately.
No one wants to blame the victim, but when it comes to young workers, are they more naive about the threats out there? Charny: I went to Cambodia in 1980 when there was still a war going on between the Vietnam-backed government and the Khmer Rouge. I was 26, the exact same age as Kayla Mueller. When you’re that young, you feel invincible. You want to help people. You don’t spend your time preoccupied with everything that could go wrong. … It’s up to the organization to say, “…We want you to understand that if something terrible goes wrong, this is what we’re going to do about it.”
[Read full NPR article]