Everyone in this world makes sacrifices and has beliefs they fervently uphold, but humanitarian aid workers, many of whom serve at the front lines in impoverished areas, go above and beyond for those in need. For the past seven years these men and women have been honored on August 19th, World Humanitarian Day. This celebration was established by the United Nations to recognize and commend all aid workers for the bravery and dedication they have displayed, especially because many go unrecognized in day to day life. Over 130 million people require humanitarian assistance globally to survive, so it is incredibly important that we take the time to thank and celebrate humanitarians for the amazing impact they have on our global community.
There is one man in particular that has made tremendous sacrifices and shown extraordinary bravery through his actions as a humanitarian: Gino Strada. Strada, born in Milan, Italy on April 21, 1948, has been achieving remarkable feats in the world of healthcare for over two decades. The 68-year-old is the co-founder of the UN-recognized organization, EMERGENCY, which is a highly specialized medical humanitarian organization that aims to provide quality healthcare to people of war-torn countries. Since it’s creation in 1994, EMERGENCY has provided care for over six million people in fifteen different countries, and the numbers are only rising, according to The Guardian.
Strada began his humanitarian efforts after graduating from the University of Milan in 1978 as an MD with a specialization in trauma surgery. After coming to the United States in the 1980s, he worked as a lung and heart transplant surgeon at Stanford University and the University of Pittsburgh until 1989 when he left his position to start working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), where he focused on trauma surgery and war victims. Strada’s work with the ICRC lead him to places like Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and is what ultimately inspired him and his late wife, Teresa Strada, to start EMERGENCY. Working with the Red Cross was ultimately not enough for Strada; he wanted to make bigger contributions in the world of medicine by creating hospitals that provided a higher standard of care for citizens of war-torn areas. Strada was not the sole believer in this dream; after their time with the Red Cross came to a close, Strada and his wife were able to gather a group of their coworkers who shared the same mentality, forming the original sector of volunteer doctors that served the organization. Strada’s wife would later serve as president of EMERGENCY, and it is her charisma and dedication to which Strada credits both the amount of volunteers that aided them in later years and the success of the nonprofit in its entirety.
EMERGENCY works in collaboration with local governments. Trainers impart knowledge and skills to local healthcare professionals and leave once the site has proven to be stable. EMERGENCY has built much more than just hospitals; their additions also include specialized surgical, rehabilitation, pediatric, first aid, healthcare, and maternity centers, as well as mobile and outpatient clinics that offer help to migrants and unaccompanied minors. All services provided by EMERGENCY are free of charge, as the organization views healthcare as a basic and inalienable human right. Throughout the years, the organization has created hospitals in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and the Central African Republic. In 1996 they built the first hospital in Iraqi Kurdistan, in 2003 they opened the first cardiac center in Africa, and today they have eight hospitals in conflict areas, as well as 54 first-aid posts and healthcare centers in heavily mined areas, or otherwise close to the front lines.
Strada and EMERGENCY heavily campaign against the root cause of war and human suffering, and protested Italy’s military involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In 1997, EMERGENCY’s protesting influenced the Italian government’s decision to ban the production and use of antipersonnel landmines. Strada revealed in an interview with Right Livelihood that he refused to accept financial support from the Italian Foreign Ministry in 2001 and 2003, because he believed it contradictory for an organization that is involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to express desire to help civilians that were harmed by the war.
EMERGENCY is an organization created to help people. It believes in the greater good of people, and all involved with the group campaign for a world without war. Gino Strada took his passion for peace and healing and created something amazing: a health organization that has been improving the lives of those who need it most, yet are often overlooked because of the financial and physical state of their country. EMERGENCY has impacted the world of healthcare by showing that the wellness of all persons is equally important, and that the establishment of healing centers on the front lines is possible with enough bravery and dedication. Gino Strada is a humanitarian who has gone above and beyond the duties of his job description by living his beliefs in his day-to-day life and being a forceful advocate for change. At 68 years old, Strada continues to practice medicine for EMERGENCY clinics and hospitals, along with his daughters who have joined to campaign, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
If you are interested in learning more about EMERGENCY, would like to donate to the cause, intern with the organization, or volunteer for them, you can visit the official website here for more information.
Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.