World Humanitarian Day shines light on real-life heroes

From left, Paul Farmer, Timothy Shriver, Jose Andres, Olga Murray, Jane Aronson, Anthony Shriver and a member of Search and Rescue USA (© AP, © Getty Images, USAF/Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)

Despite the portrayal of heroism in movies and television, it’s worth remembering that not all superheroes wear capes or fly through the air to fight archvillains intent on ruling the Earth.

World Humanitarian Day, celebrated annually August 19, was established by the United Nations General Assembly to honor humanitarians worldwide who work with little fanfare in conflict zones, refugee resettlement centers, areas hit by disasters or even urban soup kitchens. The following are examples of heroes from the United States:

José Andrés

Chef and philanthropist José Andrés founded his Washington-based nonprofit World Central Kitchen in 2010, after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, killing some 220,000 people, according to the United Nations, and displacing hundreds of thousands more. Since then, the kitchen has served more than 250 million meals and raised more than $450 million from donors. After Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022, World Central Kitchen formed Chefs for Ukraine, which has served more than 176 million meals to displaced people in Ukraine and refugees who have left the country.

Jane Aronson

Dr. Jane Aronson, a New York physician with expertise in pediatric infectious diseases and adoption medicine, started the Worldwide Orphans Foundation in 1997. As chief executive of the foundation, which provides education, medicine and emotional support for orphans, she has helped children in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Paul Farmer

Dr. Paul Farmer (1959–2022), a physician and medical anthropologist, co-founded Partners in Health, a nonprofit that since 1987 has provided health care and undertaken research and advocacy for patients living in poverty. Farmer pioneered treatment strategies to care for the sick in places without hospitals or other health care infrastructure and created drug therapies for patients in Haiti, Peru and Russia. He worked in Haitian villages to establish modern health care practices and was recognized for saving lives in the world’s poorest areas.

Timothy Shriver and Anthony Shriver

Brothers Timothy Shriver and Anthony Shriver are disability-rights activists who continue the legacy of their mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921–2009), founder of Special Olympics, a Washington-based nonprofit sports organization that hosts Olympic-style athletic competitions for people with intellectual disabilities. Timothy chairs Special Olympics, which now has 200 programs worldwide. Anthony founded Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization with 1,500 chapters that helps people with intellectual disabilities find jobs and social opportunities.

Olga Murray

Olga Murray, a retired lawyer, is the founder and honorary president of the San Francisco–based Nepal Youth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides education, health care and housing for disadvantaged children in Nepal. Murray first visited Nepal in 1984 and after seeing the living conditions of village children, resolved to help. In 1990, she started what was originally named the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation to offer scholarships — to attend school from primary grades to medical school — for children in Kathmandu and rural Nepal.

Search and rescue USA 1 and USA 2 squads

Urban search and rescue squads from Fairfax County in Virginia (USA 1) and Los Angeles County in California (USA 2) train year-round, so when a catastrophe hits, they can help. Sent by the U.S. Agency for International Development when other countries request help, the U.S. squads come with digging equipment and dogs that recognize people’s scent. In 2015, they helped Nepalese teams in the dramatic rescue of a Kathmandu teen trapped under concrete slabs, and earlier this year, in Türkiye, they searched for people trapped in rubble after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake.