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Covid-19 Diaries: Humanitarians on the Frontline

Covid-19 Diaries: Humanitarians on the Frontline

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Aurora Dialogues have gone online in 2020, allowing people from across the globe to join the discussion and contribute to it. The first event of the 2020 Aurora Dialogues Online took place on June 11, 2020.

The discussion titled “Covid-19 Diaries: Humanitarians on the Frontline” featured Comfort Ero, Program Director of Crisis Group Africa; Andrew Hudson, Executive Director of Crisis Action; Sebastian Juenemann, Founder and CEO of CADUS, and Sunitha Krishnan, Founder of Prajwala and 2018 Aurora Humanitarian, and was moderated by Nicola Stanisch, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. The event focused on how humanitarians operate in current situation, what obstacles they and their organizations are facing and where they find the strength to continue to do what they do and show the world that ordinary people can make a huge difference. The event was organized in cooperation with the Futures Studio discussion platform.

Comfort Ero, Program Director of Crisis Group Africa and Aurora Prize Expert Panel Member, admitted it was initially hard to continue reporting on the communities living in or threatened by conflict, but said it didn’t take too long for the team to adjust to the imposed restrictions: “The biggest challenge for our organization was making sure that we could continue to shine the spotlight on what the impact of this global public health crisis meant for very vulnerable communities that were already facing an onslaught of other problems, especially those that were in conflict zones and in societies that face repressions. It was very reassuring that colleagues were very quick to adapt to the situation, going online very quickly and working online and getting engaged in conversations like we’re having today, trying to rethink how we’re doing our fieldwork without putting our staff at risk.”

Speaking of the biggest obstacles his organization was facing in North-East Syria, Sebastian Juenemann, Founder and CEO of CADUS and Aurora Prize Expert Panel Member, mentioned lack of much-needed equipment and supplies, as well as the global nature of the current crisis. “We operate a field hospital in a huge refugee camp, and the biggest challenge at the moment is the absence of the essential equipment. We can only diagnose COVID-19 through different symptoms and not test [for] it, not identify it through the laboratory tests. International response is really not functioning at the moment, because every country has the same problem. Normally, in an event of an epidemic you would have some countries that are not affected and can send their teams and their support and supplies, and at the moment it’s really difficult. The restrictions are like we never faced before,” he said.

Sunitha Krishnan, Founder of Prajwala and 2018 Aurora Humanitarian, told the viewers how some people slipped through the social net amidst the crisis in India and her organization, which normally supports survivors of sex-trafficking, had to temporarily widen its activities after the lockdown was imposed: “Over 15 million migrant laborers went into a total panic mode and started fleeing back to their hometowns, walking thousands of miles with their little babies, pregnant women and old people. The exodus of the migrant laborers was one of the biggest human tragedies that we saw on our streets every day. We did not have the privilege to close down operations and we also couldn’t remain blind to what was happening outside, so we got into relief work, feeding people in the streets. It was a huge challenge to ensure that the morale of my team was high, because we had to do our work and also go to the streets and risk getting infected, because we also became front liners, and ensure that people got relief on time.”

From the leadership point of view, Andrew Hudson, Executive Director of Crisis Action and Aurora Prize Expert Panel Member, stated he has discovered the importance of showing vulnerability in times like this, besides making sure the team’s emotional needs were met: “We’ve been spending a lot of time working with the comfort and wellbeing of our team. And what I’ve learned is that good leadership like that looks like being vulnerable. Because, you know, I’m scared, I’m in New York City with three young children. Leaders are human beings and vulnerable and [should be] honest with their staff.” Answering one of the questions asked during the Q&A session at the end of discussion, he also said that feeling connected to others can be achieved even in times of lockdown – if you do it right. “Emotional connection is about asking the same questions – how are you feeling? That simple question. Asking people questions, giving them space. You can’t touch people physically, but you can touch them emotionally,” he stressed out.

Summing up the discussion, Nicola Stanisch, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and the event’s moderator, thanked the panelists for answering questions and sharing insights. “We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. We don’t know for how long it will go on, and I think this is one of the scary things. It is unprecedented, so we don’t have a blueprint for it. What we at Aurora wanted with this Aurora Dialogues event today was to share your experience and to see and hear you [to learn] how you manage to go on, to continue this fight. It’s heartwarming, it’s very inspiring, and we are collectively proud of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” she said.

You can watch the full video of the discussion below.