Today, on World Humanitarian Day, we honour all aid workers who continue to provide life-saving support and protection to people most in need, often against all odds. Aid workers are overcoming unprecedented access hurdles to assist people in humanitarian crises all over the world.
Peter Michael Marin (41) is one of these brave people. He is the humanitarian aid coordinator for the South Sudan Joint Response of the Dutch Relief Alliance. His own experience as a child and the lessons of his father, made helping others his life’s purpose.
“Sometimes, life makes a loop. I was born in 1980, in a small railway station in the city of Wau, in what is now South Sudan. At the time, my dad worked at the station. Today, more than 40 years later, I work as a humanitarian. My office is right next to the building where my mother gave birth to me.
Back then, war ravaged the country. We fled to Khartoum. I was four and spent the next decades away from home. I grew up, studied public health, started working. And ended up in Wau again, after the peace agreement and the independence of South Sudan. Now, in Wau, we are still trying to recover from the second war that started in 2016.
The value of serving others
I suppose my life’s story is what drove me to become a humanitarian. Somehow, the memories and the things I saw when I was three have never left me. They have steered me. I saw people dying in front of me. People killing people. We ran away and ended up in a camp for displaced persons, in Khartoum. We stayed there for some years. I remember our neighbours in that camp. Their sons had been killed. My dad taught me the value of serving others. ‘Go and fetch water for your neighbours, go and buy food at the market for them’, he said. It was a lesson.
“We have a duty to serve others. That’s the pledge we made when we started doing this work.”
When I leave home to go to the field, sometimes for a week, I am worried. And my wife is worried. She is worried because humanitarians get killed in ambushes in this country. And I am worried because of what might happen to her when I am away. Not so long ago, she called me when I was away for work. There was a gun fight near our home.
Standing by the people who need it the most
We have a duty to serve others. That’s the pledge we made when we started doing this work. When people only have infested surface water to drink, we drill boreholes and make sure they can drink and wash safely. When displaced farmers have lost their land, their food and their income, we make sure they can farm again. By training them to deal with increasingly devastating rains and droughts. By distributing seeds and tools. By standing with them. When babies are only skin and bones, we make sure they are fed. When they make it, when they smile again, it is the best reward you can imagine. This might sound soft, but it isn’t. When you have kids yourself, you understand.
We go to isolated places. With no internet connection, no phones. With lots of insecurity. But also with beauty and strength. The way people dance and sing in the villages is just incredible. There are times I would love to join. But I don’t really know these dances and songs, even though I come from the same country. I guess I was displaced for too long myself.”
The Dutch Relief Alliance
The Dutch Relief Alliance is a coalition of 14 Dutch aid organisations in partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The DRA members collaborate in humanitarian interventions – delivering greater impact than members operating independently.