The United Nations’ (UN) has declared August 19 to be World Humanitarian Day, acknowledging those who have worked promoting humanitarian causes and who have lost their lives in conflict zones. Hoping to increase public awareness about humanitarian assistance activities worldwide, the day was established in December 2008 to commemorate the anniversary of the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, where 22 people lost their lives, including the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

More than 700 humanitarian workers have died trying to help those challenged by hunger, gender-based violence, displacement, clean water and access to sanitation. According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a record 130 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. “People no different than you and me—children, women and men who face impossible choices every day. They are parents who must choose between buying food or medicine for their children; children who must choose between school or working to support their families; families who must risk bombing at home or a perilous escape by sea,” he says. “World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honour the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the front lines of crises.”

7 Ways to Get Involved in Humanitarian Issues

Here are just a handful of ways you can make a difference in the lives of others—starting today.

  1. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, at-risk youth program, animal rescue, etc. Then try to make it a regular commitment.
  2. Donate to a cause close to your heart—local and global. Monetary donations are great, but so are clothing, food and school supplies.
  3. Be kind to those close to you—and even those who you don’t know. Everyone has a story and struggle is universal. Reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a while and let them know you miss them. Sometimes, a smile or a hello is really all it takes to make someone’s day just a little bit brighter.
  4. Take time to learn about a cause you aren’t familiar with, like the plight of refugees fleeing war zones. Don’t just count on headlines on your Facebook feed to inform you about what’s going on in the world.
  5. Join a local political group and find out how to effect positive changes in your area.
  6. Take time to reflect upon your own humanity, and then journal or draw the story that connects you to so many others.

For more information, go to WorldHumanitarianDay.org.

5 Inspiring Books

Here are a few great reads that may just spark the inspiration to get involved with a humanitarian issue.

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter

How Soon Is Now? From Personal Inspiration to Global Transformation by Daniel Pinchbeck

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD

Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together by His Holiness The Dalai Lama

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About the author

Justine Amodeo is a contributing editor to Bodhi Tree and the editor of Pacific Coast Magazine and Montagemagazine.com. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine, and has been a student of Kashmir Shaivism and the Feminine Wisdom Tradition work of Nisha Bhairavi for many years.