Rachel Wolff: Leading from the frontlines in the Rohingya refugee crisis

“Refugee children and their families are front and centre of everything we do. Let’s never forget this.” - Rachel Wolff, Response Director of World Vision’s humanitarian operations in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

It’s this message that Rachel shares daily with her team of almost 1,000 technical staff and field workers as they head out to serve in the world’s largest refugee camp. Nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees have lived in this squalid, overcrowded settlement since their violent exodus from Myanmar in August 2017. More than half the population are children.

Children are especially close to Rachel’s heart. Prior to joining the response in mid-2018, she served as World Vision’s Global Safeguarding Director. There she led the organization’s work across nearly 100 countries to prevent and respond to violence affecting children and adults.

A World Vision staff worker meets with children in Bangladesh.

“Children in the camps are extremely vulnerable. Now their lives are more stable, but every day they face the risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation,” says Rachel, 44, a mother of four children, one of whom has special needs. Rachel is passionate about ensuring that children and adolescents with disabilities are included in all aspects of World Vision’s work.

A 15-year veteran in the international aid sector, Rachel served with World Vision in war-torn Somalia and supported operations remotely in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010.

“It’s the women and children who you remember long after you’re back home,” says Rachel, who is from the Seattle, Washington area. “When women are empowered, their whole family benefits—especially in a crisis. Every time I visit the camps, Rohingya women tell me that they don’t want to be dependent on aid. They want to learn new skills so they can earn a living and feed their children better. Many are emerging as strong community leaders. As a female leader myself, I want to do everything I can to support them.”

Running a response operation is a 24-hour responsibility fraught with unending challenges. Rachel thrives on problem solving. Her day can range from triple checking security measures to keep her 1,000 staff members safe to advocating for refugees’ rights with visiting international dignitaries.

Rachel believes Christians are called to especially care for refugees—be they in Bangladesh or in our own backyards. “We know God uses the weak to confound the strong,” she says. “The courageous children and parents that I meet remind me of that every day.”

Edited by: Michelle Plett; Photographer: Jon Warren