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“I Wanted To Be Part Of The Solution,” Says WFP Staffer

As a teenager, Jan Delbaere decided he wanted to do something about hunger and poverty. Now he works in some of the toughest humanitarian situations to determine how WFP can help the hungry. For World Humanitarian Day, August 19, we recognize the work of Jan and other aid workers like him. See video

When did you decide that you wanted to be a humanitarian worker?
When I was just a kid, I decided I want to help solve the problems of underdevelopment and suffering in the world’s poorest countries. So I studied agricultural economy, because helping people feed themselves seemed like the best way to do that.

What does a food security analyst do exactly?
My job is to make sure WFP has a clear idea what’s happening in situations where people are going hungry. We figure out how many people don't have enough food, why that's happened and what WFP can do to help them.

What does that entail?
Often, it means going “door-to-door “ to interview people and see whether they’re eating enough. We also look at harvests, family income, food prices – all of the factors that determine whether a person has enough food.

What’s the hardest part about what you do?
Working face-to-face with the realities of human suffering is definitely up there.  In Myanmar, for instance, we went to a village after Cyclone Nargis in 2008 where almost all of the children had drowned. Their parents were still in shock from the experience.

What’s the most extreme situation you’ve seen so far?
I’d say the earthquake in Haiti. Sudden disasters like that cause an unbelievable amount of suffering, but at the same time you hear a lot about people surviving against all odds, which is quite uplifting.

What’s it like to live and work in the middle of a crisis?
It’s uncomfortable, for one thing. After the quake in Haiti, I spent ten days camped out at the airport next to the only working runway in the country. You can imagine the noise. There was very little clean water, poor sanitation and I was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. After a while, it started to take its toll on me.

Have you ever been in danger?
I was in a high-risk situation in Pakistan a few years ago, when my hotel was bombed, and before that in Rwanda during the 1990s when the genocide broke out.

What about your job gives you the greatest amount of satisfaction?
In extreme situations like Haiti or Myanmar, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the suffering you see all around you. That’s why I take so much satisfaction in knowing that the work I do helps ensure that aid gets to the people who need it most.

What kind of sacrifices does your job require of you?
My work requires me to travel a lot, which means spending a lot of time away from my family. My 5-year-old daughter even stopped speaking Flemish with me (she speaks English with her mother) because I’m so often away.

Is it worth it?
Yes. I love my job. It fulfils the dream I had when I was younger to help change the plight of the world’s poorest. My contribution may be a small one, but it’s part of a larger effort that has succeeded in helping millions of people. I take a lot of pride in that.