World Humanitarian Day

Meet the Women of HHI

World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is held every year on 19 August to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and to rally support for people affected by crises around the world.

World Humanitarian Day 2019 is set to celebrate Women Humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place. This year’s campaign on Women Humanitarians supports the recognition that women deserve in the strengthening of global humanitarian response as well as in protection efforts under the international law.

“From supporting civilians caught up in crisis to addressing disease outbreaks, women humanitarians are on the front lines.”
— UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

To celebrate 2019 World Humanitarian Day, we are introducing you to just a few of the women of Heart to Heart International. These women highlight the passion and dedication that everyone at HHI has for making the world a better place.

Joan Kelly – Manager, Disaster Response

“I started my humanitarian career volunteering with a community organization in rural Tanzania in 2007. Learning that there was a lot I didn’t know, I studied international humanitarian aid at the University of Kansas and Cornell University to improve how organizations can save lives, best alleviate suffering, and restore dignity. Over the years I’ve worked for organizations around the world, promoting community-led programs that overcome an us vs. them mentality. Right before coming to Heart to Heart, I worked in Syria coordinating programs that focused on health, livelihoods, and the protection of vulnerable people.

I was raised in Kansas, and feel fortunate to work for Heart to Heart International that is in the Heartland providing humanitarian aid around the world. Whether responding to a Tornado in Kansas, the U.S./Mexico Border, or any where else in the world, I am constantly motivated by the communities that are doing everything they can to help others in need. For me, humanitarian work is a daily dose of optimism, with example after example of the best in people.”

Brittni Blaser – Coordinator, Disaster Response –

“I’m from Lawson, Missouri, and I worked as a CNA while I finished my Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management and Global Sustainability at Park University. I’ve always loved to travel, so I spent one year exploring parts of Southeast Asia, Europe, and Australia. While in SE Asia, I volunteered with the Khmer Institute for National Development in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I assisted the organization with their “Check My School” program that was working to get textbooks and running water in the schools. After my travels were over, I decided to get my Master’s. I finished my Master’s in International Healthcare Management, Economics, and Policy with a concentration in Global Health at SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy. Prior to my completion, I did an internship with the Belize Red Cross working on their Zika project.

Once finished with my internship, I knew I’d be moving back to the United States and started looking for disaster response volunteer opportunities. This is how I came across Heart to Heart International. I applied for their Disaster Response Team while in Belize. The day after I moved back, I attended their training workshop, and a couple weeks later I deployed as a logistician for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, FL.

Between my experience at HHI’s workshop and working with the team in Florida, I knew that this was not only the profession I wanted to pursue but the organization I wanted to be a part of. I started with HHI a few months later as their Disaster Response Coordinator.

I can’t think of anything that is more rewarding than being a humanitarian worker. Working in Disaster Response can be very busy and a lot of hard work, but going into a community that has been devasted by a hurricane or tornado and watching that community put everything aside to help each other is one of the most incredible things I have ever been a part of. Another great thing about it is, participating in a response team with HHI and our volunteers. These selfless individuals put their life on hold to go provide much needed services to those survivors.”

Nachelle Kaughman – Manager, Volunteer Engagement

“I have been in the non-profit world for 13 years, helping connect people and resources. As the Manager of Volunteer Engagement with HHI for nearly a year, I have facilitated projects in Haiti and Puerto Rico. Whether corporate volunteer trips or individuals on the Disaster Response Team, I love to be the bridge between need and people who are willing to give of their time and skills to serve others. “ 

Courtney Leeper – Volunteer Coordinator –  

“I was born and raised in Papillion, NE. While attending school at Northwest Missouri State I had no idea what career path I wanted to choose, I just knew I want to make a positive impact on the world with my career. I came across the Emergency and Disaster Management major and quickly realized how much humanitarian aid organizations do and how much I wanted to be a part of it. After graduation, I joined NCCC AmeriCorps to attempt to get my foot into the world of humanitarian aid. Throughout my experience in AmeriCorps being deployed to both Hurricane Harvey and Maria, I realized that the organizations that were really making a difference in the lives of disaster survivors were nonprofit organizations. Which is why I applied at Heart to Heart International. What I love about the work I do at HHI is that I’m always working with volunteers who are just as passionate and dedicated about doing something to make a difference in the world as I am.”

Judy Hastert Laboratory Manager

Before joining Heart to Heart International, Judy Hastert worked in laboratory microbiology and quality. She and Carla Orner were recruited by HHI to work on parasitology on a water sanitation project in Guatemala. The project checked kids for parasites and treated them appropriately. Both women fell in love with the work of HHI.

“I appreciated being able to use my skills, things that not everyone else can do, to help out in the humanitarian field. There was such gratification to that feeling,” Judy said.

Judy and Carla continued volunteering with HHI, setting up point of care labs around Kansas City and performing laboratory training and audits in Haiti. Carla was ultimately hired as Program Director and Judy as Laboratory Manager. They have helped set up point of care testing at laboratories across the U.S., trained laboratorians across the globe and helped organize volunteer service trips to rehabilitate a hospital in Cameroon.

One story from that trip to Cameroon still resonates with Judy. “I took a team of BD volunteers to Fotabong, Cameroon, to train Community Health Workers.  22 women were chosen for this role, which was considered an honor. Those women would take their notebooks home each night and STUDY!  We couldn’t trip them up with our quizzes. They were so invested and so excited about supporting their community is this way. Every day they would get together and brainstorm, creating an original song that would promote or talk about one of the topics of the day – anything from breastfeeding to nutrition to sanitation.  Our classroom got quite a reputation on that trip because there was so much laughing and singing emanating from the space, just pure joy.”

Judy said that one of the things that helped make her decision to join HHI was realizing that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her career on personnel management. She wanted to use her specific skill sets in a way that helps people.

“One of the best things about this work is working with such exceptional like-minded people who want to expand access to health care and serve the underserved. The people who spend their lives working in safety net health clinics or providing health care in developing countries with no water, no electricity and no money are exceptional. Anything and everything we do to support them and this work is very meaningful, very gratifying work.”

We are so thankful for our women humanitarians!