An Evening Celebrating the World’s Humanitarians

On Friday night I attended the “I Was Here” event at the United Nations headquarters in New York in celebration of World Humanitarian Day that is celebrated every year on August 19. In attendance was Beyonce who filmed the video for her song I Was Here  in the UN General Assembly Hall.  She donated her video to the  United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs to spread the word about World Humanitarian Day in order to reach 1 billion people with the message to help one another on August 19 and beyond.

World Humanitarian Day first began in 2007  to honor the 22 people who were killed during an attack at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. Today World Humanitarian Day celebrates the people who help those in need around the world and those who risk their lives every day for the safety and security of people in need.

The evening was capped off by Beyonce’s moving performance, but the night started with remarks by Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and poignant interviews by Anderson Cooper with people who do amazing things to help others every day. First, Anderson interviewed Laurent Vieira de Mello who helped start the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation. Sergio is Laurent’s father and a humanitarian who was killed in the worst attack against the United Nations in 2003. The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation works to advance the humanitarian notion of conflicts and resolutions through peaceful means.

Anderson also interviewed Pernille Ironside, a Child Protection Specialist in Emergencies for UNICEF, who has negotiated the release of children from Ugandan warlords and the Nepalese government. The work she does will make your jaw drop, but she continues to work in dangerous situations to save the lives of children around the world. Please take a moment to read an article about Ironside from a few years ago in the CS Monitor. It sums up her amazing work nicely.

Anderson also interviewed Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone who was saved by a team from UNICEF in the 1990’s. He wrote A Long Way Gone, his memoir about being a child soldier. He recounted how his immediate family was killed and how he sought refuge at a military base. After a week at the base he had been taught to be a child soldier. He was only 12-years-old.

Beah wrote his book to tell his story and the stories of millions of children just like him. His story shows that even though children are taught to commit horrible atrocities that they can come back from living as a child of war.

Cooper Anderson interviewed Erin Dinan, a New York City-based photographer who started One Sandwich at a Time, a nonprofit that comes together twice a month to feed New York’s homeless. What started as a simple idea to help others has turned into an organization with massive reach that just recently fed 600 people in New York. Learn more about her work at

On August 19 join me and millions of others who will celebrate World Humanitarian Day and commit to do something – no matter how small – to help someone else. Visit to join the movement.


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