Special Call To Action: Help Reshape Humanitarian Aid Work
It was mid-summer, 2012. Spirits were high as Trev (my husband for any new readers) and I were at Dundas Square for a performance he was about to get down in (as the bassist for the band Digging Roots at the time) for Aboriginal Day festivities at Dundas Square in Toronto. About an hour before he was to hit the stage we received a phone call informing us that his/our dear friend, Steve Dennis had been kidnapped. Steve is a humanitarian aid worker, and since 2002 he has been assisting to provide aid in some of the world’s most devastated areas.
At the time of his kidnap, he was deployed with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. Steve and four of his colleagues were attacked by armed men, shot and taken with force as hostages. One of them did not survive. None of us can begin to fathom what this might have been to go through. I just know on the other side, in receiving this horrible news … that time stood still. We had no control. There was nothing we could do to help Steve. We didn’t know if he would survive. Thankfully, he did. But thousands of other aid workers in similar, tragic events, have not. And yet thousands more who have survived physically, require care and rehabilitation that they are just not receiving.
As anyone could image, the repercussions of this tragedy have had ongoing effects on him that you or I could not imagine. He brought his concerns to the NRC and received next to NO ongoing support. In the years since Steve has made discoveries concerning the NRC’s level of accountability and level of duty of care to it workers as an organization in general. Not just regarding what happened to he and his colleagues. So he hired a lawyer in “pursuit of answers about organizational accountability and support for my injuries” as Steve states in the essay of his Fund Razr campaign. Why is he seeking to raise funds? Steve hopes to help re-shape aid policy and procedures to the level that reducing the risk of violence requires! And to take proper care of those and their familes who are suffering. As one might envision, in knowing what a huge organization that the NRC is … the bevy of high rolling lawyers they have at their disposal. Steve is but one man in his plight for fair and [much needed] call-to-action for change in aid and thus far has used his own resources and time to cover legal fees.
There is so much more to the story and I urge you to read what Steve has to say and watch his video on his Fund Razr page. The change he is trying to manifest will benefit the future of ALL aid workers. He is asking us to share his message … like that of so many other aid workers, and to discuss what duty of care means to you, and make a small donation any way we that we can.
This has been difficult to write as I want to share ALL of the details with you, but I also beseech you to visit his funding page. Get the full scope of how crucial the shift towards safety and accountability for aid workers that Steve is petitioning for. Share his story on your social networks (use the hashtag #ReShapeAid) and get involved in the discussion.
Words From Trevor
When Steve first told me of his decision to start working with Médecins Sans Frontières, I saw immediately what a great fit it was. Steve is a level-headed, fair and pragmatic engineer who brought a talent for making things out of nothing to places that needed them most. His good heart and wisdom was recognized by ex-pats and nationals alike and he earned respect unanimously. He has always had a mind fit for figuring out processes and logistics and MSF, and later the Norwegian Red Cross (NRC), saw that and put it to very good use for a long time. There was always knowledge that working on these front lines brought risk, but there were plans in place to provide a working environment that was as safe as possible. Steve was forthcoming with his thoughts on where he saw weaknesses in security procedures and other safety concerns. Indeed on some assignments, he was the man on point to enforce best practices to ensure the safety of the staff, ex-pat and national, on the project. He had the experience and the ability to disseminate his knowledge to the organizations he was working for. And he did.
In 2012, his camp was stormed by armed men, resulting in the death of his friend and driver, Abdi Ali, and the kidnapping of him and 3 others. The camp was being run by the Norwegian Red Cross (NRC), and they were absolutely negligent in their responsibilities towards the safety of their staff. There were a slew of security measures that had been well discussed and thought out, yet were simply ignored or dropped. And after the kidnapping, the NRC did nothing to take responsibility for their actions nor make reparations in the field for their mistakes.
The kidnapping was a turning point for Steve. I know that he has struggled with PTSD and has not been, and may never be, ready to return to the field. But, Steve is a man who sees justice as a responsibility and he is standing up against the NRC to make them accountable for their failing response to the kidnapping incident. His voice echoes the unheard voices of thousands of aid workers who ask only that true efforts be made towards keeping them safe while they do important and harrowing work in the field.
Steve is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I am grateful that he is and will be around to watch my children grow. And I am proud of him, and absolutely support him, for taking this stand. His actions must have a positive effect and will, in all likelihood, save lives.