SONGSOPTOK: Let us forget for a moment the UN definition of ‘humanitarianism’. What is your personal definition? In what context would you apply the word?

HIRAK:  My definition of a humanitarian is a person who has the goal of serving humanity in a positive way. I personally apply humanitarianism to the concept of giving the powerless tools to improve the situation that they currently face.

SONGSOPTOK: What, according to you, are the specific types of events that call for humanitarian actions?

HIRAK: The events that call for humanitarian involvement include natural disasters, war, political repression and environmental disasters.

SONGSOPTOK:  Why, in your opinion, do countries and societies even need humanitarian actions, often initiated and coordinated by the so called first world economies?

HIRAK:  Countries and societies need help from wealthier countries partially as a result of colonialism.  These countries became economies of extraction while wealthier countries manufactured products and therefore gained more of the wealth.

SONGSOPTOK: Can individuals play a significant role in initiating or participating in humanitarian actions? In what way?

HIRAK: Anyone can get involved in humanitarian actions simply by getting a group together to raise money for a cause. One example was the recent ALS (otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Ice Bucket challenge where one person challenged their friends to dump ice water on their heads or donated $100 bucks to ALS. Other ways to get involved are to participate in NGOs and nonprofit organizations working on these issues.

SONGSOPTOK:  What should be the role of the world community, especially organizations like the UN, to encourage humanitarian actions in different countries, especially those suffering from internal war or external aggression? Do you think that their efforts are sufficient? If not, what else should be done to help the countries / societies / populations in need?

HIRAK: I believe the UN and the world need to make a better effort to provide a safe environment for citizens stuck in war-torn areas. More importantly though, these organizations need to put their focus on educating children, providing quality access to healthcare and encouraging greater access to electricity through green energy sources. These actions would encourage sustainable economies and therefore less of the political instability that leads to violence.

SONGSOPTOK: What should ideally be the role of the governments in humanitarian actions – both in afflicted countries and in the other countries of the world? Are government activities sufficient in this context?

HIRAK: The role of government should be to increase access to quality healthcare, electricity, education, and economic opportunities for all its citizens. When a group is starving for lack of basic necessities, the government should step in to help and work with NGOs and other organizations on the group to get aid to the people efficiently. Unfortunately, many countries in poverty have endemic government corruption and inefficiently allocate resources. As a result, aid and government assistance does not get to

SONGSOPTOK In your opinion, do religious institutions play an important role in humanitarian actions? In your own experience, what kind of actions have you witnessed that have been pioneered by religious institutions?

HIRAK: Religious organizations play a major role in humanitarian relief because they play a key role in the lives of several billion people. One example of this is the Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity Daya-Dan in Kolkata where I volunteered a few years ago. If government, NGOs, and religious organizations work together, they could provide better relief to people who need it most.

SONGSOPTOK:  Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) are often in the forefront of humanitarian actions and yet there have been widespread criticism about the efficacy and utility of NGOs in different countries, especially in Asia & Africa. What is your own experience? Should NGOs be given more power and independence where humanitarian actions are concerned?

HIRAK:  NGOs have the same issues as any corporation or large organization. Unfortunately, some NGOs devote too much of their resources toward large administrative salaries and high costs for fundraising. Few of the resources donated ever gets to the people. Responsibility should be placed on wealthy nations to make sure these organizations are doing the tasks they purport to do. In my experience, most NGOs have mostly done what they were given funding to accomplish. However, I think that it is the role of government, both wealthy and poor; to ensure operating NGOs are held accountable.

SONGSOPTOK:  What should be the aim of humanitarian actions in afflicted countries – short term relief or long term actions that would help societies build up their own strengths and resources? Please share your knowledge or experience about long term actions undertaken anywhere in the world.

HIRAK: Personally, I am more interested in long term goals of making every poor nation self sufficient. The financing of solar panels in Bangladesh by Grameen Bank and World Bank accomplishes two goals. The first is to provide access to electricity generated by clean energy. Millions of Bangladeshis have benefited from having access to light at night. The second goal accomplished is employment. People have to be employed to sell and install systems. As a result, Bangladesh will soon be producing its own energy which will help reduce poverty across the country.

SONGSOPTOK: It is often seen that the strongest help and support comes from within the communities affected by conflicts or natural disasters. How, in your opinion, can communities be empowered to successfully face such situations? What, in this context, could be the role of formal or informal grassroots organizations?

HIRAK:  Communities can most easily help each other when affected by conflicts and natural disasters. Communities can be empowered through strong community organizations that develop a response plan to a particular situation. This may involve having food and equipment to deliver food if a famine hits. These organizations can also assign duties to community members so the first response after a natural disaster occurs is much faster.

SONGSOPTOK: Women and children are most vulnerable in situations of conflicts or disasters. What, according to you, are the specific actions that need to be taken to ensure the safety and security of women and children?

HIRAK: I believe every family should have a plan for a conflict or disaster. In cases of war, a family if possible should have a secure place they can go to whether that’s an underground location, a family member in another area, a friend, etc. In natural disaster, families need to have a plan to get to higher ground in the case of a hurricane or flood. Being prepared would provide for the security of everyone.

SONGSOPTOK: How do you, as an individual, practice humanitarianism? Is it an important part of your value system & mental make-up? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us.

HIRAK: Humanitarianism is a very important part of who I am as a person. I have helped in efforts to reduce malaria and tobacco use in West Bengal, India. Currently, I am focusing on the US by supporting workers rights through my legal research. I believe union organizing should be encouraged especially in the garment industry in Bangladesh. Labor organizers have been beaten up for trying to push for higher wages and safer work conditions which would prevent the next factory collapse.  Workers should have the right to collectively bargain with their employer for a better life. I have learned that when workers get organized, they win.. 


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