Diyar Faris, Fred Hollows Foundation, Nicola Lee, Partnerships Manager and Moderated by Sophie Barbey, ICRC in the panel discussion during the celebration of World Humanitarian Day at International Humanitarian City Warehouse Dubai. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

Dubai: “Am I still alive?” Diyar Faris wondered as she laid on the floor bloodied, shards of glass covering her face, arms and legs.

Staring into pitch darkness, this was the first thought that came to her mind after an explosion ripped through the United Nations office where she was working on August 19, 2003.

Sixteen years on, Faris can still remember the attack when a suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives next to the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq.

The explosion pulverised the three-storey converted hotel, killing 22 UN officials and aid workers and injuring at least a hundred.

Faris was 21 at the time of the attack and was working as an administrative assistant in a telecommunications firm, which was setting up emergency communication lines so that aid could be delivered throughout Iraq during the second Gulf War.

“I still remember how I saw the glass flying and I saw the frame of the window flying my way. I saw fire coming out of the monitors and blood all over the place,” Faris, now 37, told Gulf News during the World Humanitarian Day celebration in Dubai on Monday.

“The picture that I have in my mind is blood. Your clothes are full of blood. You don’t even know if it’s your colleague’s or yours.

“Life turned dark completely. For the first few seconds after the explosion, you don’t even know if you’re still alive or not. It was so inexplicable, so indescribable — the noise, the sound, the darkness.”

Still working as a humanitarian worker based in Dubai, Faris said the explosion changed her life.

“It was my first job, my first month with the team. I was doing my Masters and I remember I was not even sure if I wanted to continue or not or how interested I was in the job,” she recalled.

“A day after the explosion, they asked me ‘Can you come [to work in the field]? I said, ‘Yes, I am coming,’ without thinking twice. The explosion made me realise that this is exactly what I want to be in — the humanitarian field, despite all the risks.”

Faris is just one of the many men and women who risk their lives and limbs to deliver aid worldwide in warzones, disasters and crisis zones.

They are the unsung heroes who serve on the front lines even in the most difficult terrains and situations just to help those in need.

“In many of the places nothing is available there — clean water, food, even access to showers and toilets. All these basics and necessities of life become luxury in certain operations,” Faris said.

“There’s not even safety. The most important thing that we’re taking here [in Dubai] for granted is you come out of your house, you take your car or transportation method and you go somewhere and you feel safe. That is not an option in the field.”

The job entails extremely long working hours, no permanent assignment, high-stress environment, and many more but for Faris, none of it matters.

“It’s rewarding because it gives you the satisfaction that you helped someone in need,” she said.

“It’s not a job. This is a life choice that’s why it’s so worth it.”