After more than 25 years in the field, UNHCR’s Representative in Yemen remains motivated and inspired by resilient refugees
Unfulfilled by his previous job working for a bank in Amman, Jordan, then 25-year-old Ayman Gharaibehtook a one-month UNHCR contract in Kuwait, where he was deployed to the middle of the desert in his first humanitarian role. “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” says Ayman.
More than 25 years later, that spontaneous decision turned out to be the beginning of a long career, eventually leading to his current role as UNHCR Representative in Yemen.
Though he is now based in Sana’a, Ayman’s work has taken him all over the world, including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Bosnia.
In Yemen, Ayman and the rest of his UNHCR field team face huge challenges.
“In just one day, Sana’a can get 62 air strikes. We can have 5,000 cholera cases per day.”
Though the pressure of needing to help so many can be huge, he remains committed to doing everything he can to assist those looking for safety. “You are up against such a challenge and you begin to question yourself—what are we doing here?” he says. “But that completely changes when you are closer to the people and see you’re actually making a difference in their lives.”
Though the role of organizations like UNHCR is important, Ayman also acknowledges the strength and perseverance of the refugees he works with.“
We often say that what humanitarianism and humanitarians are doing is saving lives. But I don’t think that gives credit to the people we are serving. Refugees have survived because they know how to survive—people are saved by their own resilience, that’s how Yemen survives today.”
Leaving behind one duty-station for another is always difficult, Ayman says, but the needs of refugees are ever-increasing all over the world.
Witnessing resilience in the face of immense hardship and suffering helps him see the importance of continuing his work.
“The best days are when I come face-to-face with the people that this organization serves,” he explains. “That’s what really gives you the motivation—you are dealing with people who are not giving up, so why should you give up?”
As of March 1, Ayman Gharaibeh has taken on a new role as UNHCR’s Representative in Iraq.
Yemen by the numbers
* 24 million people in need in Yemen
* 3.9 million people have been displaced within Yemen in the last three years
* 81% of internally displaced persons have been displaced for more than one year
To find out how you can help Yemenis in need, please visit unhcr.ca/yemen