Anna Spindler is the UN Refugee Agency’s Head of Supply Management and Logistics. With her committed and passionate team, Anna ensures that refugees and other people of concern get the blankets, tents and other relief items they need. Last year alone, Anna assisted with humanitarian crises in Bangladesh, Syria, Uganda, Angola and many other countries. The interview below demonstrates the critical role donor support plays in Anna’s work.*
When an emergency strikes — like the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh — how do you quickly deploy your team and the supplies that refugees need?
Anna: The first thing we do is ask: what supplies are all already stored in the country where the emergency is taking place, and what can we buy locally? We also arrange for shipments from one or more of our stockpiles in Dubai, Nairobi, Kampala, Douala, Accra, Amman and Copenhagen and then we mobilize staff. Often, we must adapt to a region’s unique circumstances. For example, the main port in Bangladesh — which was and remains a complex, massive emergency — became congested very quickly. Because we couldn’t offload our ships, we flew in supplies from around the world — making 21 airlifts in total in 2017.
Supply means more than just delivering blankets or tarps.
We are delivering protection, in many forms.
You must get to know a lot of refugees. Can you share a story that has stayed with you?
Anna: When I was in Bangladesh last November, I noticed a man with a baby on his lap. His wife was in a chair nearby. He told me that she had diabetes and became paralyzed six months ago. Later, I found out that she'd had a stroke. The couple had seven children, but they were separated. I asked the man about his journey. He told me he walked at night for 10 days over the hills, carrying his wife and child the entire way. He showed me his shoulders. The skin was so raw. And the muscles were in visible knots. When I saw him the next day, he and his family had been reunited. I was struck by this man’s courage, and really, the courage that all refugees have. Their strength and will to survive through horrible circumstances, to have a chance at a better life for their families. That always puts things into perspective.
I'd like anyone reading this to know that supplies do get to refugees
because my teams are responsible for delivering them.
When did you want to become a humanitarian worker?
Anna: I spent 13 years in supply in the private sector. I also volunteered with my father, a physician, on different medical trips. In 2005, we went to Honduras, where we helped to build a wheelchair distribution clinic. One day, my dad sent me off to the market to buy supplies. I had such an adventure — talking to people and using my skills in such a different way. I loved it, so I decided to do it full-time.
What can Americans do to help?
Anna: There are two ways to help. First, the world needs empathy. We need it for each other and for refugees. Second, refugees need financial support — and even a modest contribution goes far, as it provides hope and security for people who crossed the border with sometimes nothing other than their strength, courage, love for their family and their will to survive.
I would also like anyone reading this to know that supplies do get to refugees because my teams are responsible for delivering them.
Here’s how you can help…
The UN Refugee Agency relies on people like you so that Anna and her team can do their lifesaving work. Please become a monthly donor. Your strong and steady support will help our world's most vulnerable people 365 days a year. Join your fellow caring Americans by making your first gift today.
*Note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.