July 18, 2014, marks the world’s fifth Nelson Mandela International Day – the beginning of a “global movement to honor his life’s work and to act to change the world for the better.”

Created by a unanimous decision of the United Nations General Assembly, the day was inspired by a call Nelson Mandela made in 2008 “for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices when he said that ‘it is in your hands now.’”

I, along with millions around the world, have a special fondness for and have derived a tremendous amount of inspiration from Nelson Mandela. While working at the Gates Foundation, I passed by one of Mandela’s famous shirts every time I walked up and down the stairs to my office. Without fail, seeing his shirt both made me smile, and kept me focused on my work at hand – allocating dollars to effectively meet the needs of disaster-affected communities.

Nelson Mandela while in prison (photo courtesy of PBS).
Nelson Mandela while in prison (photo courtesy of PBS).

Nelson Mandela International Day got me to thinking about other humanitarian heroes – those individuals who have inspired me, inspired the world, and created magnificent change. And yet, please allow me to be cliché for a moment, there are countless everyday humanitarian heroes who have touched my life since I began working in the disaster space.

Gulu, Uganda – the woman I met in 2005 who headed up the Well Committee. She knew how to repair and maintain wells and organize her community so that fresh water was available 24/7.

Aceh, Indonesia – the very young woman who sent texts the entire time I was with her. Each text, not benefiting her social calendar, but rather, ensuring that her team in the field had the supplies it needed to reach and support survivors of the South Asian Tsunami.

Brooklyn, New York – the mother who lost all of her camera equipment and a lifetime worth of negatives in Hurricane Sandy, but promised to resume taking photographs so that she could care for herself and her six-year-old daughter.

On a more global scale, I’ll highlight two more heroes that have run through my mind as I was thinking about humanitarian heroes.

First, the makers of Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based paste used for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition.Plumpy’Nut is used at home, removing the need for malnourished individuals to be treated in the hospital. The product saves lives.

Second, members of National VOAD and InterAction that have dedicated relief and development missions both domestically and internationally. These organizations, their staff, and their volunteers are crucial to the recovery of disaster affected communities around the world. They work tirelessly to save lives; improve upon best practices in disaster response; and bring communities out of poverty by improving shelter, creating business opportunities, supporting educational systems, and increasing the capacity of health care systems. These organizations save lives.

I’d like to ask that, if you are reading this blog, you take a moment to email me at regine.webster@gmail.com to tell me about your heroes. Who keeps you going, who inspires you, who brought about great change in this world? Write me and let me know!