A History of Humanitarian Aid Workers: Preserving Their Historical Contributions

Every year, international agencies and government bodies recognize World Humanitarian Day. Although this holiday officially falls on August 19, there are reasons to be thankful to humanitarian aid workers all year. These hardworking, dedicated, and persistent individuals have been champions for human rights and personal freedoms worldwide for over 160 years.

Unfortunately, the origins of this international awareness day are much darker. The UN created WHD in 2009 to commemorate the anniversary of the 2003 Baghdad hotel bombing that killed 22 humanitarian aid workers, including the UN's human rights commissioner. Despite setbacks and difficult conditions, humanitarian aid workers persist in helping people meet their basic needs by providing food, water, shelter, medical care, and other critical services. Humanitarian aid workers are part of a global community united by four central pillars: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. 

  1. Humanity is a universal commitment to address suffering and help those who are most vulnerable.
  2. Neutrality states that humanitarian aid workers won't favor any side in a war or conflict.
  3. Impartiality ensures that aid is available to all in need without discrimination.
  4. Independence allows humanitarians to work outside political, economic, and military authority. 

Humanitarian Aid Workers: Who They Are and What They Do

Humanitarian aid workers fill a variety of roles. They respond to natural disasters and serve communities affected by war, disease, famine, health care shortages, and other crises. Some may contribute specific skills, such as medical knowledge and mental health expertise, while others may assist on the administrative side by handling management, outreach, and funding. Without these hardworking individuals and diverse organizations, many people and regions wouldn't enjoy the quality of life they do today. Learn more about some of the most famous humanitarian aid workers and the roles they performed:

  • Wartime medical aid: Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Edith Cavell all provided medical services and support during wartime. These women were the forerunners of international medical relief organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Ships.
  • Civilian aid: Some of the most notable contributors to civil aid causes include the Great Humanitarian Herbert Hoover, Save the Children founder Eglantyne Jebb, and Nobel Prize winner Fridtjof Nansen, who helped thousands of refugees return home. Other important figures include Elizabeth Fry, Oskar Schindler, and Mother Theresa.
  • Aid to soldiers and POWs: The cofounder of the Red Cross movement, Henry Dunant, created an impartial organization to serve injured soldiers and prisoners of war, and he helped to ensure humanitarian workers are protected under the Geneva Conventions.

How Organizations Protect Humanitarian Aid Worker Contributions

Humanitarian aid workers have made numerous contributions that have bettered the lives of countless people worldwide and led to improved human rights standards. Documenting these achievements is important for understanding the past, inspiring future generations, and recording current events. The following organizations and institutions have preserved important collections from notable humanitarian aid workers and organizations:

  • England's University of Manchester is home to the Humanitarian Archive, which preserves private records from individuals and humanitarian aid organizations from the 1960s on. The archive includes records from Tony Redmond, John and Elizabeth Wilson, UK-Med, and British missionaries active in Saigon during the Vietnam War era.
  • Sponsored by the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, Solferino 21 is a special project exploring 160 years of humanitarian aid history from the Spanish Civil War and the work of Henri Dunant to the digital age of big money and big data.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross has been digitizing an extensive collection of humanitarian aid records housed in the ICRC Archives. This collection includes photos, film, audio records, and over 6,700 linear meters of textual material dating back to the mid-1800s.
  • Oxford University's Bodleian Libraries have hosted workshops educating archivists on the rewards and challenges of conserving humanitarian aid records. In 2012, the organization received over 10,000 boxes of material preserved by the humanitarian aid organization Oxfam.

How ScanPro Can Protect Humanitarian Aid Records

Humanitarian aid records come in a variety of formats, and ScanPro can handle them all, including viewing, indexing, and converting. Developed by e-ImageData, ScanPro has a full range of microfilm scanners and digital conversion software designed for archives, libraries, and research institutions. Each all-in-one unit can read, scan, and print microfilm records in multiple formats. ScanPro is compatible with 16mm and 35mm film, cartridge film, fiche, jacketed fiche, aperture cards, and micro-opaques.

  • The ScanPro i9500 offers state-of-the-art OCR capabilities that can accurately interpret blipped and non-blipped reels.
  • Designed for research applications and file conversions, the ScanPro 3500 uses a high-performance 26-megapixel camera with exclusive auto-scanning software to power through up to 100 files per minute.
  • ScanPro 2500 is a budget-friendly all-in-one scanner, printer, and film reader that offers hands-free scanning and easy operation.

Digitize Microfilm With e-ImageData 

Partner with e-ImageData to digitize the microfilm and historical records in your humanitarian aid collection. We offer a full range of equipment and services, including support and training, to help your team conserve and catalog one-of-a-kind records and artifacts. Our solutions have been used by libraries, archives, and institutional clients in the public and private sectors. Join the team of archivists using digitized microfilm to preserve national and international history.

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