What Motivates Humanitarian Workers to Remain on the Frontline – Even During the Pandemic

BY: Masha Scholl, Rebecca Vermot - 19. August 2020

On this World Humanitarian Day, we honor frontline workers who sacrifice their comfort and risk their lives to support those in need. They are our real-life heroes.

This year, the UN has launched a global campaign that celebrates humanitarians - a "thank you" to the people who have committed their lives to helping others. In the face of COVID-19, communities, civil society and local NGOs often find themselves on the frontline of the response – despite conflicts and insecurity in many parts of the world.

To respond to COVID-19 and its economic effects on the communities we work with, Helvetas quickly initiated close to a 100 humanitarian response projects in most of its partner countries hoping the pandemic will neither endanger these men, women and children nor jeopardize the progress made all these years in securing basic needs such as access to water, schools and basic services, in adapting agriculture to climate change and creating access to markets in order to achieve better incomes.

Today, Helvetas too celebrates its many real-life heroes. Find below some of them who work for Helvetas and our partner organizations - and read what motivates them to be brave in these challenging times.

Burkina Faso

«Despite COVID-19, we continue to help internally displaced people because they need our support to regain hope. They lost everything due to violence in their home villages. I met young people who saw their friends being killed and who saved themselves by running away and hiding in the bushes. I remember the words of an old woman from Sitigo saying: “God bless you because you have come in spite of all and helped us”. This gives me joy and pride.»

Emmanuel Yameogo, Burkina Faso. Responsible for identifying and protecting vulnerable people, especially internally displaced persons

More heroes from Burkina Faso

"My job is to mobilize and sensitize communities on good hygiene and sanitation practices. I also do the soap making training. This allows more vulnerable people, including many women, to earn some money by selling it cheaply to members of their community." - Louise Barry, Burkina Faso (4AS)
“We are working hard day and night so that the internally displaced people, their families as well as their host families who accepted and are taking care of them can be relieved.” - Abdoul Fataho Konate, Burkina Faso

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

«Assalamualikum. I heard that a disease called Corona has come to our camp. Corona is a bad disease. If it spreads, more people will die and for that I have joined Prottyashi-Helvetas project to inform our Rohingya community about this disease and to save the people.»

Mohammed Said, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. A volunteer responsible for creating Covid-19 awareness and distributing hygiene kits

Other heroes from Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

(all names of Rohingya refugees in this post have been changed to ensure their safety)

“I work to survive on my own and to keep my Rohingya brothers and sisters alive.” – Rodela, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
"I heard that coronavirus is spreading all over the world." - Amir Ibrahim, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
“I am working to keep my family and the community free from that disease.” – Ali Ahmed, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
“I saw a man next to our house get sick and suffer day by day. I work as a volunteer to make people aware of the disease.” – Jahanara Fahad, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
“The disease has come to our camp.” – Jameel Aziz, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
“The coronavirus disease is ongoing in whole world and lots of people die every day.” – Yousef Hassan, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh



«Nothing makes me happier than serving the community, especially women. Their facial expression, passion to learn and hard work gives me courage to devote more of my time to diversify their source of income. I believe serving the community is a blessing.»

Almaz Hailu (on the left), an irrigation expert working at a local government agriculture office

More heroes from Ethiopia

Girls that I work with are marginalized, with no access to education, suffering from neglect and harmful traditional practices. They don’t have access to basic information, which increases their risk to COVID-19. This motivates me to continue fighting every day.” - Biruhalem Sisay, Ethiopia.
“I feel obligated to help those less fortunate than I am in this though time. The community needs our help now more than ever." - Ethiopia Dejene (in the middle), Ethiopia


«Life is precious. I have the training and mental capacity to protect the disadvantaged against COVID-19 – so it is my moral obligation.»

Maria Florinda Andre Tomas Joao, Mozambique. Responsible for promoting COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures

More heroes from Mozambique

“The communities need our support and services, especially with water and sanitation, now more than ever.” - Ricardo Mendes Graciano, Mozambique
“Despite the risks of contamination (community transmission phase), this moment becomes the phase in which the community needs more support from us, to guarantee the improvement of living conditions as well as the strict application of preventive measures against the Pandemic.” - Ali Magido, Mozambique


«My motivation and the reason why I continue to work on behalf of the people affected by the COVID-19 crisis can be summarized in the saying “Helping others is part of spiritual mindfulness, the right way of living”. The thought that my work of awareness-raising and behavior change related to water, sanitation and hygiene can bring safety and health improvements to thousands of people serves as an inspiration to continue my efforts during the pandemic.»

Lalita Kumari Bhandari, Nepal (on the right). Responsible for improving hygiene practices and COVID awareness (Social Service Centre  - SoSEC Nepal)


«I was born in the city of Arequipa and live as a migrant in Lima. I know what it is to feel far from my land and family. Now I support Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Even though they face critical situations, they never lose optimism and joy. They have the faith and desire to achieve a dignified life in our country Peru. Now with COVID-19 I am worried about them and I am answering calls at all hours from people who ask for advice and support. I am convinced: a society improves only when rights are fully respected and exercised.»

Erika Collado, Peru. Responsible for providing legal support to Venezualan refugees and migrants

More heroes from Peru

With few resources, an old laptop, a video recording camera, Jessica Herrera and her husband provide useful information to migrants. “My main motivation is gratitude. When I migrated to Venezuela as a little girl, people treated me with great kindness”. Now she wants to give this kindness back to Venezualan migrants in Peru.


«The joy that comes from helping those in need motivates me to do more humanitarian work. COVID-19 is a pandemic. It will be more effective if all parties work together accompanied by the government. We are confident that we will be able to provide timely assistance to needy areas collectively.»

Nan Ei Mon Mon Aung, Myanmar. Responsible for raising awareness about COVID-19 prevention, mobilizing joint response actions, distributing hygiene kits, and providing food to quarantine centers (Local Resource Center)

More heroes from Myanmar

“I am proud to have worked for the country during such period and to have acted good deeds as a responsible citizen.” - Su Latt Zaw, Myanmar (Local Resource Center)
“The wet season has started and there isa lot of work that has to be done during this season such as emergency preparedness and response. The Mon State experienced flooding and landslides in the past and we need to have community awareness on the issue.” - Wut Yee Kyaw, Myanmar


«Being a humanist I categorically believe in serving humanity in difficult times. The pandemic of COVID-19 is a global issue and it is the prime need of the time to contribute in the combat against it. As an unprecedented pandemic, there is a dire need to continue with the capacity enhancement of health workers and other front line fighters.»

Munawar Khan Khattak

More heroes from Pakistan 

"Friend in need is friend indeed. As a humanitarian worker I could not stop to help the people affected by the pandemic, even on the cost of my own safety. The menace seems to take long, but our strong resolve will never get us exhausted." - Shahid Mahmood, Pakistan
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. In the pandemic, when most of the people are fighting for their own life, I feel glad to fight for my people." - Sajid Hussain, Pakistan.