Kristine Gimongala
Health Organization for Mindanao
Location: Mindanao, Philippines
Occupation: Nutrition Cluster Coordinator

I started in development and humanitarian work early when I worked as a documenter in college. I didn’t choose this calling - it chose me. I’m now on my 17th year in this field performing various roles in nutrition, from being a community organizer, community nurse, a nutrition officer for UNICEF and now, as nutrition cluster coordinator for the Marawi response. I worked in the most disadvantaged communities in the farthest corners of the Philippines, with different indigenous tribes, faiths, and rebel groups. I worked in villages with no power, doctors or nutritionists. I talked to mothers who have never had a single prenatal visit and generations of families who have never attended school.
My work involves ensuring that children receive proper nutrition, from the time they are conceived by their mothers, to their growing up years. In the Philippines, a third of children do not receive the nutrition they need. For Mindanao, the numbers are much worse. Conflicts and disasters worsen their already dire situation. This is the reality aid workers face every day in the field.
A humanitarian worker needs to be resourceful and solution-oriented. I once met a severely malnourished child named Ifa whose family was displaced because of the Marawi conflict. Ifa’s mother is of poor health herself, and the child did not eat the therapeutic food or milk but took breast milk from one of the mother volunteers. Through the efforts of the local mothers group, the Philippine General Hospital, and the Philippine Air Force, we were able to fly in donated breast milk for Ifa from Manila. Now, she is a healthy and happy baby. This is what makes my work worthwhile.
Working in dangerous places is always a risk. I cannot forget the time when conducting a basic health skills training, armed men came into the community and pointed an M16 rifle at me. It was like in the movies. My life flashed before my eyes. They doubted our intentions, so I invited them to sit in the training so they would know that this is for the benefit of their community. Thankfully, they let us go and continue with the training.
As a humanitarian worker, being a good listener is important. The wisdom and power to change reside within the community, our role is merely to facilitate. A humanitarian’s action is guided by strong feelings of compassion and solidarity. The female humanitarian acknowledges that she needs not struggle alone. And in solidarity, in helping others liberate themselves, she also liberates herself in the process. To call for humane treatment, for decency and dignified interventions, and social justice for all, regardless of race, religion, or gender, is her ultimate assertion of equality. Invest in women and see how the world changes for the better.