Nuhad
75 years of NRC

The unsung heroes of NRC

They save lives. They work hard every day to reach people forced to flee in the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible places. They stand up for people living in desperate situations who are fighting for a dignified life and hopes for the future.

They are the dedicated field workers of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) - one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations.

Meet some of the people who go one step further to make sure assistance, comfort and support reach those who need it the most.

Violetta in Ukraine

Violetta
Read caption “NRCs assistance is long-term, consistent and effective”, says Violetta Shemet in Ukraine. Photo: NRC

Many of the people working with NRC were once forced to flee their homes themselves. Our communication officer Violetta Shemet in Ukraine is one of them, and she knows what her support means to the people she meets and assists.

“I wake up and do my job because it contributes to the assistance of millions of displaced people – such as myself,” she enthuses.

The armed conflict in Ukraine began in 2014, and NRC has been present in the country ever since. Violetta says that during her time with NRC, she has made many memories of life, its challenges and NRC’s support within the conflict region of Ukraine.

The sun is shining as Violetta talks about the moment she remembers most. In 2018, colleagues from NRC’s head office came to Ukraine for a field visit. “We visited several families living along the front line. They showed us their homes, they told their stories, and shared their feelings with us.”

Even though her job is challenging at times, Violetta keeps going. “I don’t give up, even on the toughest days. I have been through lots of challenging situations, such as war, displacement and loss, and I survived them because I kept moving, and doing the job I do.”

Violetta is excited about NRC turning 75. “It proves that NRC’s assistance is long-term, consistent and effective,” she says.

Nuhad in Yemen

Read caption Nuhad is talking about birth certificates with a group of women in Al-Mishqafa camp, Yemen. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

In Yemen, NRC has been present on the ground since 2012. Years of brutal war have turned the country into what is now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Nuhad Nasser Hassan Mubarak is one of the dedicated field workers providing assistance to people living through the devastation.

Nuhad is a legal aid officer with NRC Yemen, and through her work she often meets people who lack documentation papers. She speaks passionately about the importance of having legal documentation and birth certificates. She is happy to see how her work directly affects people that have had to flee their homes.

“It makes me feel like my contribution is not going to end once we leave. It’s something that lasts a lifetime, so that people are able to exercise their rights in their country forever.”

That is not to say the job is always easy.

“There are times of course when people feel like they want to give up. However, then I remember I have been displaced myself. I fled from my home in 2015, and there was no way for me to go back. I remember that I really needed the support system in the community.”

One moment Nuhad will never forget is when her team went on a field visit two years ago. She was sitting with a mother and her four children. They received birth certificates, enabling them to finally enrol in school.

“One of her children was called Hamza. He was nine years old, a little boy, very shy, and sitting in the corner,” recalls Nuhad. She asked Hamza’s mother what his hopes for the future had been before they had to flee their home.

“She told me: ‘actually we don’t ask them these questions, because eventually they’re going to become farmers just like their fathers’. I turned back to Hamza and asked: ‘Hamza, what do you want to be in the future now that you have a birth certificate and can go to school?’. Hamza told me, jumping with excitement: ‘I want to be a teacher, and I want to be a doctor, too!’”

Nuhad smiles. “One document can change a life completely.”

Mohammad in Lebanon

Read caption Mohammad Al-Hajj Shehadeh works with NRC in Lebanon. Photo: NRC

In Lebanon, refugees from Syria and Palestine make up over a quarter of the country’s total population. NRC started its operations there in 2006.

“Waking up and going to work early every morning means that I am doing something that I truly love,” says Mohammad Al-Hajj Shehadeh, who works with information management in Beirut.

“Teamwork has always proven to be the key to success,” he continues. “At NRC, teamwork is essential, because it helps people to develop their ideas and brainstorm with their colleagues.”

Mohammad and his colleagues have faced many difficult situations, but the hardest was in 2020, when there was a huge explosion at the port in Beirut. The blast killed over 200 people, injured several thousands, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. “The response was very sensitive and needed precise work,” he says.

“I cooperated with my colleagues, and we spent a lot of time helping the team on the ground to assess what people’s needs were. People benefitted a lot from NRC’s support after the explosion, and everyone has been mentioning us. It makes me proud to belong to this organisation.”

Mohammad feels that, for humanitarian workers, the phrase “giving up” should not even be mentioned. He explains:

“If we give up, the people we assist might give up as well. They might lose the concept of having a better, decent life.”

Masum in Bangladesh

Read caption Masum Billah among some of the homes in Cox’s Bazar camp, Bangladesh. Photo: NRC

Masum Billah is an education officer with NRC Bangladesh, working in the world’s biggest refugee complex. There are over 600,000 Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar currently residing in various camps in the city of Cox’s Bazar.

Masum is a strong believer in every child’s right to an education and describes himself as an education activist.

“My dream is that every child has access to education, a seat in a learning centre, and the chance to build a better future. That’s what inspires me to do the job I am doing at NRC”, he says.

“Educational opportunities are helping thousands of Rohingya adolescents and youths to shape their future and fulfil their potential.”

Masum’s eyes light up when he speaks of one his field visits. As he was walking, a group of children playing saw him wearing the NRC vest, and ran up to him.

“Out of the blue, they started grabbing my vest and shouting excitedly ‘our NRC, our NRC, we study in the NRC learning centre!’. I felt I could see countless dreams in their eyes. I often think of this scene before I go to sleep at night. It makes me wake up in the morning determined to make my learners’ dreams come true.”

Maria in Colombia

Read caption Maria in conversation with two children in Colombia. Photo: Milena Ayala/NRC

In Colombia, a six decade-long armed conflict has resulted in the most prolonged and serious humanitarian crisis in the Americas. NRC has been active in Colombia since 1991.

In her job as team leader Maria Alejandra Gonzales Martinez is dedicated to reaching those that are the most difficult to access.

“What makes me wake up every day and do my job here with NRC is being able to reach out to communities that are located very far from the community centres, so we can provide services and go to the people that are the most vulnerable,” she says.

In addition to people who have fled their homes because of the armed conflict, Colombia has received migrants and refugees from Venezuela. More recently, in the north-east of Colombia, people have been affected by floods as well as conflict.

Despite the difficulties she and her team sometimes encounter, recalling a recent field trip still puts a smile on Maria’s face.

“We visited an indigenous community and had to walk over three hours to get to them,” she says. “Their leaders were being threatened and their children were being recruited by armed groups. All of our team worked together to provide them with goods and services and give them protection.”

Mercy in Somalia

Mercy Gitau is a Kenyan hydrogeologist who has worked with humanitarian organisations in Somalia since 2005. The security situation in the country requires that she plans her work and travel with extreme care, following strict security guidelines. Ongoing conflict in the country restricts her ability to move freely, making her work challenging and placing major limitations on her personal freedom. One experience made a particularly strong impression on her:

“A friend and colleague of mine was kidnapped here in Somalia a few years ago. She was held captive for two years before being released. Of course, this is something that really affects you”, she says.

Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC
Read caption “The changes that we make are much greater than the challenges that we face”, says Mercy Gitau, who is working for NRC in Somalia. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

“My greatest motivation in the job that I do with NRC is that I really see it making a difference. Together with the NRC team, we have saved a lot of lives,” says NRC Somalia’s Mercy Gitau.

Mercy is a trained hydrogeologist, responsible for NRC's water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Somalia. She often goes on field visits to follow up on he projects around the country.

Mercy smiles as she describes what drives her to do the job that she does. She is proud to be a part of the team, because of NRC's reputation. “In Somalia, NRC are recognised as an agency that delivers high quality programmes.”

Her job is not always easy, but giving up has never been an option.

“The changes that we make are much greater than the challenges that we face,” she says.

Mahmood in Iraq

Read caption “At NRC we are making changes. We are making people’s lives better”, says Mahmood Haji Ahmed. Photo: Warvin Mohammed Abdullah /NRC

In Domiz camp, Iraq, we find our education project manager Mahmood Haji Ahmed. The wind is gusting across the hill where he stands looking out over the camp.

“What makes me proud to be working here and being a part of the NRC family is that NRC is a pleasant place to work,” he says. “Every day I see people smiling to me, exchanging greetings.”

Mahmood also values the fact that NRC delivers high quality programmes, on schedule. “This is very important, because if we don’t reach out to people on time, that means we don’t make any changes. But at NRC we are making changes. We are making people’s lives better.”

Mahmood smiles as he talks. “There are memories I keep with me, that I cannot forget. For example, through our intervention in schools, we have changed people’s perceptions and ideas about each other.”

“In one of the schools, we created an activity for refugee children, where they were able to work together with their host community on a short play. Through this collaboration, they made friends. Children have been brought together, regardless of their ethnicity or their background or religion.”

Aicha in Mali

Aisha
Read caption Aicha Ibrahim MaÏga works with NRC in Mali. Photo: NRC

Our education officer in Mali, Aicha Ibrahim MaÏga, tells us that the 2012 crisis in Mali is what inspired her to work in the humanitarian sector. The crisis particularly affected the north of the country.

“As someone from the north I felt obliged to contribute to provide assistance,” she says. “That’s what drove me to work as a humanitarian. I wanted to help people in need – children, women, displaced people and all the people in the north of Mali.”

The challenges Aicha and her team members face daily are mostly related to security. The team works in very dangerous areas where it’s not always possible to predict when something bad will happen. But this doesn’t stop them from continuing to provide help to those who need it.

“The desire to assist those in need allows us to overcome all the challenges that we experience,” she says.

Raji in Afghanistan

Raji
Read caption “Helping people to overcome their challenges and alleviating their suffering is the most sacred purpose that you can have as a human being,” says Ezatullah Raji in Afghanistan. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

NRC is a strong advocate for refugees’ rights, something that NRC Afghanistan’s Ezatullah Raji holds dear to his heart.

NRC has been present in Afghanistan since 2003, assisting the population amid a four-decade long conflict. The success of our work there relies on the efforts of dedicated people like Raji.

Working with NRC has enabled Raji to grow and learn in his job, especially when it comes to working in the humanitarian field. Through his work, he learned about the humanitarian principles, and how aid workers should feel a responsibility towards those in need.

“This organisation makes you a changemaker. You will be able to bring positive change and give hope for people in need,” he says.

“I’m very proud of having been able to help numerous men and women to access their rights related to housing, land, property and legal identity during my last few years working for NRC.”

“Helping people to overcome their challenges and alleviating their suffering is the most sacred purpose that you can have as a human being.”