Htet Htet Oo

A schoolteacher who became an aid worker to help through the hardships of men, women and children affected by crises

The devastation brought by the Cyclone Nargis 12 years ago - the deadliest in the recorded history of Myanmar – and the heartbreaking stories of men, women and child, who lost their loved ones and everything they had, was the starting point for Htet Htet, to pursue the humanitarian path.

Working in a primary school in the late 2000s helped Htet Htet maintain her connection and love with children she had her entire life. “One day, I asked a question to myself—what about the children whose families cannot afford to go to school? Who is going to help them through?” In search of answers, she decided to join an international organization working for child rights and children protection in April 2010 in Yangon. This is where the journey began.

“It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of how people lost their loved ones and everything they had. But, at the same time, it was so inspiring to see the resilience of the people; their desire to rebuild their lives, start everything from the beginning.” – Htet Htet refers to the first years of her professional career as an aid worker after Cyclone Nargis. “I could sense that, even a little, my work was contributing to making a difference in their lives.”

Their suffering is not their choice

Htet Htet, who later joined the United Nations humanitarian coordination office (UNOCHA) and went on to become an international aid worker in Juba, South Sudan, recalls how challenging her own childhood was. “I know what it feels like being helpless and getting a helping hand. Millions of people around the world today are suffering from the consequences of choices they did not make. Everyone has the right to live with dignity and we all need to help each other in every way we can, because we are one human race.”

Talking about her work in Myanmar and now in South Sudan, Htet Htet always knew that humanitarians are not the ones who are driving the process of changing people’s lives for better. “It is the people who inspire us. Their strength, resilience, endurance and the way they keep hope alive inspire me.”

She recalls the stories of how a mother from a war-torn area in Myanmar did everything to feed and educate her children; how a young woman who once faced gender inequality is now standing up and speaking out for other women in the same situation, or how a child who lost one of his eyes in landmine blast kept his hope of becoming an engineer. “These are the stories that inspire me, give strength and hope, and help me to become a better person.”

What also drives Htet Htet as a humanitarian is the rewarding experience of witnessing how aid workers’ contributions save lives and alleviate suffering. “I feel good when I see people assured that they are not helpless and there are people who care about them.” 

“One does not have to become a professional humanitarian worker to help others – humanitarian spirit is in every one of us”. The World Humanitarian Day this year recognizes the efforts of aid workers like Htet Htet. She feels rewarded for how her career path has evolved since 2010. “Being a humanitarian for over 12 years has also helped me to become a better person myself. I am happy to do what I am doing. However, one does not have to become a professional humanitarian worker to help others – humanitarian spirit is in every one of us.”