Jonaid Jilani

Written by

October 2, 2020


Being an aid worker can be one of the most challenging and dangerous occupations in the world. Not only do you have the enormous responsibility of delivering aid to people quickly, but you can also be risking your own life.

Tragically, over the last 36 years, Islamic Relief has lost eight staff members to bullets and bombs in six countries, while trying to deliver aid and save lives.

In countries such as Syria and Yemen, local staff, not only deal with their own personal tragedies but also reach out to help others under life-threatening situations.

The challenges aid workers face is now the subject of an exhibition opening today at the Imperial War Museum North, “Aid Workers: Ethics under Fire”, which shows the practical, emotional and ethical challenges faced daily. It looks at dilemmas, such as deciding who needs help and which risks to take.


© IWM – Still from interactive exploring whether all aid workers face the same risks. Aid Workers: Ethics Under Fire will combine ‘in the field’ testimonies with scenario-based interactives.

Visitors to the museum can put themselves in the shoes of an aid worker with personal ‘in the field’ testimonies and scenario-based interactives to help consider how they might respond to complicated decisions about the reach of aid, funding, responsibility and risk.

On the museum visit, people will see interviews from around the world, displayed alongside photographs and unique objects – recorded and sourced especially for the exhibition. There will also be personal belongings and equipment which give an insight into the conditions workers face and the mental and physical trials of working in the field.

Islamic Relief is widely respected for saving and transforming lives in some of the world’s poorest and hardest-to-reach places. In Yemen – described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – the charity is feeding over two million people each month as the main implementing partner for the UN’s World Food Programme.

Last year, Islamic Relief also provided vital assistance to 906,000 people in Syria, where a staggering 11.7 million people need humanitarian aid, with 6.5 million people also facing hunger on a daily basis.

Mohammad Hamza, who is a food security officer for Islamic Relief in Syria – and featured in the exhibition – knows only too well the challenges aid workers face. Mohammad says:

“Once we were in the middle of a food parcel distribution when we heard the sound of fighter jets flying above us. We were concerned that we would be targeted because of the crowd, so we called off the distributions to prevent a massacre. The jet, unfortunately, bombed a nearby town about 3 km away which unfortunately killed two civilians. Mother and her child. ” 

The exhibition reveals the dilemmas encountered while operating in dangerous areas including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from which over 17.5 million people have collectively fled due to recent conflict.

As the exhibition opens, we should take time to remember the countless workers across the world who have lost their lives while saving others and those who selflessly continue to help people in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

Aid Workers: Ethics Under Fire is part of Refugees, a free season of exhibitions, new artistic commissions and immersive events taking place across IWM London and IWM North in 2020.

© Copyrights 2020 Islamic Relief Worldwide, Inc. All rights reserved. Registered Charity No. 328158

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