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Unni Krishnan

Unni Krishnan, Haiti

Unni Krishnan is Plan's head of disaster response and preparedness

Most of the last 20 years, I have worked in (and on) humanitarian situations - on frontlines where people encounter hostile forces: disasters, military, mobs, terror, microbes, extreme weather events and so on. Faced with inexplicable threats, people in crises fight, flee, succumb, cope or adapt.

Trained as a physician writing medical prescriptions, I ended up drafting press releases and funding proposals - a “spin” doctor, as my friends joke.  Well, often, they are more useful in humanitarian situations!

Growing up in Kerala in South India, a very wet place, my mother always told me to overlook the dirt and mud of ponds and focus on blooming lotuses in them. Now I always encourage children in areas where I work to shut out the din around and focus on what they love the most. Be cheerful – despite everything.

Working with some of the leading humanitarian agencies, such as Oxfam and ActionAid, campaigners and the People’s Health Movement and studying in some of the centres of excellence such as the Madras University and University of Geneva, helped me to understand the science and politics of health and humanitarian action.

The most important lesson I learned from children, while playing football or flying kites with them in crises situations in over 40 countries worldwide, is that life is not always about waiting for the storm to pass - at times it is about learning how to dance in the rain!

The trick is not to lose the fun of life. One has to find the right balance between the human suffering and the difference we make through our actions, however small it may be.

Plan offers one of the rare opportunities to bring lasting changes in children’s lives. I come across ordinary children who show extraordinary survival skills, resilience and grit in my regular work and the positive impact of our work on a daily regular basis - almost every day. Well, I have an exciting job - a meaningful one, not just to me.