How far would you go to make a child smile?

UNICEF’s humanitarian workers are at the heart of everything we achieve for children. They work in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous places and they’d do anything to make a child smile.

Find out what it takes to be one of UNICEF’s humanitarian heroes.

Would you trek up a mountain to keep children safe from deadly disease?

A country ravaged by war is a terrible place to be a child but it’s the perfect place for disease to spread.

UNICEF health worker Ahmed and his team of vaccinators are determined to prevent that from happening in war-torn Yemen. That means climbing a mountain in the blistering heat to vaccinate children who would otherwise go unprotected. That’s not their only challenge: vaccines need to be kept cold, even in the desert climate of Yemen.
Ahmed (right) and his team are part of UNICEF’s huge network of community health workers in Yemen who are dedicated to keeping children safe. More children in Yemen die from preventable diseases than in the conflict, so vaccinations are critical. © UNICEF/Yemen

The team’s hard work pays off. Families have heard radio announcements about the vaccination campaign and they’re waiting anxiously for them to arrive. Ahmed goes from house to house, talking to parents and vaccinating children.

"This vaccine will protect your child from polio," he says. "If your child gets polio and becomes disabled, the whole family will suffer because you have to take care of the child and carry him everywhere, even to the toilet."
"We need to vaccinate our children
because they are a part of us. We
will not leave out even a single child".

Would you teach for free in a dusty refugee camp after you’d lost everything?

You might remember the terrifying abduction of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by terror group Boko Haram in 2014. It sent shockwaves across the world and swept social media with a movement calling to #BringBackOurGirls.

Years on, Boko Haram’s violence still threatens children in the Lake Chad region. Millions of children in the region have been forced from their homes and out of school. Even when they reach safety,
many children miss their chance to learn for one simple reason: there is no one to teach them. UNICEF wants to help 1.3 million children learn during the crisis this year. We couldn’t do it without teachers like Ms Sanda, who helps children at the Dalori refugee camp in Nigeria go to class, play and feel a little normal again.
The Dalori refugee camp is full of families who’ve lost everything but Ms Sanda makes sure there’s a bright, safe environment for children to learn and play. © UNICEF/UNI193693/Esiebo

Ms Sanda was the principal of a secondary school that was attacked by Boko Haram. She fled before they arrived but later learnt the militants had burned down her house and killed her brother. She has lost much to the conflict but in this makeshift classroom she’s ensuring that violence does not define the lives of the next generation.

“If I don’t help these children, who will help them? I mobilised other teachers to help my people,” she says. “I told them not to expect any pay.”

“Most of the children had never even been to school. They have illiterate parents who did not send them to school. The parents do not resist their children learning conventional subjects now, because the terror of Boko Haram has taught them the importance of education.”

Would you work for months to reunite children with their mother?

Since violence erupted in 2013, over three million people from South Sudan have desperately fled their homes. Families have dodged bullets, run for hours and hidden in dense swampland for safety. Thousands of children have been separated from their families in the chaos.

Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare but UNICEF specialists help to find the families of children found vulnerable in conflict zones and refugee camps. Through innovative mobile networks and painstaking research, UNICEF’s reunification and tracing team in South Sudan has managed to reunite 5,000 children separated in the violence with their families.
A beautiful moment: this mother hadn’t seen her children in two years but UNICEF brought them together again. © UNICEF Canada

Mustapha is part of the team behind this family’s emotional reunion. They had been separated by violence for two years but finally, the young mum and her three children were brought together at this site for South Sudanese civilians. Mustapha was just happy to have helped - watch his reaction:
"Today I will go to bed with a happy smile and
with the feeling that the job has been done".
UNICEF is there from the moment a child is found alone and vulnerable to well after they’re back at home. We make sure they’re safe in alternative care and don’t fall victim to exploitative orphanages or child labour, trace their families and follow up with support. It’s a job that Mustapha and our teams around the world take very seriously. 
Story with thanks to UNICEF Canada.

Would you spend all day in a clown costume in the blazing heat of the Syrian summer?

Wherever they are, children need to play and smile. It’s not just fun: it’s important for healthy brain development, especially when children have experienced stressful situations like fleeing home.

26-year-old Ahmad makes sure that children have a chance to dance and giggle, even when they’re growing up in a refugee camp. “Childhood is the purest thing in the world,” he says.
For Eid al-Fitr, UNICEF volunteers visited children in the Mabrouka refugee camp. They wore costumes and handed out gifts, juice and lollies to more than 800 children. © UNICEF

Would you keep working in the aftermath of an earthquake?

In the aftermath of an earthquake in Nepal, vaccinators like Mithu gave children life-saving protection from disease. © UNICEF/UNI198954/Karki

“Mithu admits she was scared to work after massive earthquakes shook her community in Nepal. But it didn’t stop her. The young nurse joined a UNICEF campaign to vaccinate half a million children against measles, rubella and polio - diseases that could spread rapidly in the aftermath of the disaster. ”
“Honestly we are little scared deep
down but we know that we have to be
courageous and continue our work.”
“After the earthquake, the roads to our work areas are badly damaged,” she said. “There wasn’t even a gravel road. But I am very glad and proud that I have been able to support these mothers and children. I have been doing this for a while and will continue it in future. I am very happy to be able to do this.”
Mithu vaccinates a child at a health post in central Nepal. Across 14 districts affected by the earthquake, vaccinators are giving children the same life-saving immunisation. © UNICEF/UNI198961/Karki

Would you negotiate with the leaders of armed groups?

In countries torn apart by conflict, UNICEF specialists have an unimaginably difficult job: negotiating with armed forces to set children free. Last year, that meant 21,000 children could put down their weapons, go back to their families and just be children again.

Luny spent three years in an armed group in South Sudan but now he’s free and ready to go back to school. “I saw many bad things in the army,” says the 14-year-old. “I am a little nervous about going to school but I am looking forward to it very much. I don’t have any school books or pens. I am also very glad to be back with some of my family as they look after me.”

It won't be easy but with education and support, Luny can start to choose the life he deserves.
Children who are freed from armed groups can have a hard time reintegrating back into their communities. It takes years to get back to normal life and UNICEF is there to help. We’ll support Luny in the years after negotiating his freedom. © UNICEF/UN028367/Rich

Would you make a small, ongoing donation to create a better world for them?

UNICEF’s humanitarians face incredible challenges but they keep working day after day because children need them. They work in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous places because they’re dedicated to keeping children safe and making sure they have a reason to smile.

We can’t all do this work but we can support it - even from here in Australia.

UNICEF humanitarians like Ahmed and Ms Sanda are passionate but they don’t have the funds and supplies to do their jobs. You can help. By signing up to make a monthly gift, you can join our Global Parents and support UNICEF humanitarians all around the world from right here in Australia.

UNICEF teams can vaccinate millions of children in just days. They know how to bring a child back from severe malnutrition. And they can reach children no one else can. But they can’t do it alone. Help UNICEF humanitarians deliver life-changing supplies and bring a smile to a child’s face.