In the podcast Awake at Night, Melissa Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), explores what it takes to be a humanitarian worker in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous situations. The stories are heartbreaking and harrowing and utterly fascinating. Humanitarian aid workers have to be incredibly mentally tough to spend every day trying to make the world a little better for people facing their darkest hours. While most aid workers are happy to help disaster victims, refugees, displaced persons, and families find a path forward, it’s tough work. PTSD, anxiety, and stress-related illnesses are all well-known side effects of humanitarian work.
Now aid workers are getting a little help to take care of themselves.
The United Nations Foundation along with the athleisure-wear brand Lululemon created Peace on Purpose, a program that provides UN development and humanitarian workers with yoga and mindfulness training to help counteract stress, strengthen leadership, and build resiliency. According to Calvin McDonald, Lululemon’s CEO, the program was created specifically with the needs of humanitarian workers in mind.
“They face unique pressures and challenging situations, and the program provides insights into mindfulness for a variety of situations,” McDonald told Fast Company in an email, explaining that they tailored yoga, meditation, and mindfulness training programs to UN staff and local leaders.
Lululemon has built a social impact program into its corporate culture, including one element, dubbed Here to Be, that helps communities access yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. It’s supported more than 300 nonprofit organizations since 2016 and knew the program can help in even the most stressful environments.
“To effectively care for others, humanitarian workers have to take care of themselves,” Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the UN Foundation, told Fast Company in an email. “U.N. workers don’t shy away from serious challenges like disasters, conflicts, and poverty; they head toward them to help people in need. This work can be stressful, so the mental health and well-being of aid workers must be a priority. . . . Peace on Purpose is built around the idea that ‘support people’ need support, too.”
The efforts appear to be working. “With expert help, we have created a robust training program that has equipped more than 650 UN staff across eight countries with tools to support their mental health and well-being,” says Calvin. “Our research suggests that the program helps reduce risks like anxiety and depression.”
Lululemon says it has committed a further $1 million to grow the program over the next three years to provide self-care to over 30,000 UN employees.