The United Nations declared August 19 as World Humanitarian Day, as a way to commemorate the 2003 bombing of the U.N in Baghdad, Iraq, as well as a way to pay homage to all of the humanitarians working tirelessly worldwide. This lesson plan will help students examine the concept of humanitarianism and provide them with a firsthand experience from David Annan, a volunteer ambulance driver with the American Field Service (AFS) during World War I. Students will have the opportunity to read a diary entry written by David Annan during his volunteer service in France in 1917, and then compare and contrast his experience to a present day Humanitarian Hero.

Background and Information:

Humanitarian Worker: Includes all workers engaged by humanitarian agencies, whether internationally or nationally recruited, or formally or informally retained from the beneficiary community, to conduct the activities of that agency. (OCHA)
Humanitarian, United Nations & Associated Personnel: Includes the following groups of persons whose safety and security must be ensured during Complex Emergencies: Persons deployed by a humanitarian non-governmental organization or agency under an agreement with the UN Secretary-General to carry out activities in support of the fulfilment of the mandate of a UN operation; Persons engaged or deployed by the UN Secretary-General, whether as humanitarian personnel, members of the military, police or civilian components of a UN operation, or experts on mission; and Persons assigned by a Government or an intergovernmental organization with the agreement of the competent UN organ. (OCHA)
American Field Service Ambulance Drivers: The American Field Service was founded after the outbreak of World War I, when young Americans living in Paris volunteered as ambulance drivers at the American Hospital of Paris. AFS participated in every major French battle with the French Armies, and the 2,500 American volunteers carried munitions and supplies as well as more than 500,000 wounded. AFS ceased to exist as an independent ambulance organization in World War I when the United States entered the war in 1917, but has since changed to an intercultural learning organization.

Key Terms For the Letter

S.S.U. 65:  An acronym for Section Sanitaire [États-] Unis 65, David Annan’s American ambulance unit working alongside the French military
blessés: French word meaning “wounded”
Boche: A term, which could be considered offensive, used by the French during World War I to refer to a German soldier [sic]: A Latin adverb used in transcriptions to indicate that the previous word was transcribed exactly as found in the original document, despite any errors
Chemin des Dames: A ridge north of the Aisne River in France, which was the site of three battles during World War I Vendresse: A commune in northern France
Gemmill, Myers, Holton: Fellow AFS Drivers William Gemmill, Robert Myers, and William Holton
poulet: French word meaning “chicken”


  • Students will be able to:
  • Understand the term “Humanitarian”
  • Explore the issues in the countries that have been declared in crisis by the UN
  1. Afghanistan
  2. Central Republic of Congo
  3. Haiti
  4. Iraq
  5. Myanmar
  6. Somalia
  7. South Sudan
  8. Syria
  • Compare and contrast the experiences of a WWI Ambulance driver and a present day Humanitarian Hero
  • Describe different ways students can create awareness around pressing global issues and take action


45 minutes


Diary Entry by AFS Driver David Annan (PDF).
Photograph of AFS Driver David Annan (Reference)
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: OCHA Glossary of Humanitarian Terms (Reference) 
Index Cards
Poster Board

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

AFS Educational Goals:

Cultural Realm

  • To understand the concepts of “culture” and intercultural adaptation.
  • Cultural knowledge and awareness: To become more aware of their own culture and recognize its influence on their behavior.

Interpersonal Realm

  • To have a deeper concern for and sensitivity to others and expand their capacity to perceive and respond to the values, feelings, and realities of others.

Global Realm

  • To develop an increased curiosity and concern about world affairs, to develop a sustained commitment to obtaining information from many sources and seek out perspectives from other cultures in understanding world situations and problems.
  • To have an increasing knowledge of a range of world issues that affect people and divide us, such as human rights, environmental issues, and poverty.
  • To understand the interdependence of the global community and have an increased awareness of the larger impact that their personal choices and actions have in other parts of the world.
  • To be willing and ready to work with others to help build peace, to improve world conditions and to commit to actions that will bring about a just and peaceful world.
  • To engage in voluntary service toward the improvement of the local and global communities.


  • Pass the index cards around and ask students to define what it means to be a humanitarian
  • Ask students to read some of their responses
  • Review the official definition from the UN with the class and write it on the poster board for reference
  • Assign students in pairs
  • Pass the Diary Entry by AFS Driver David Annan and assign them a different Humanitarians Hero
  • Ask them to answer the following questions: (15 minutes)

1. Why do you think David Annan is considered a humanitarian?
2. What kinds of challenges do you think he was facing while writing this letter?
3. Describe the role of language in this letter.
4. If you could respond to the letter, what kinds of questions would you ask David?
5. What are the characteristics of your assigned Humanitarians Hero?
6. How do they compare to David Annan?
7. Compare what was happening in France in 1917 to what is happening in your assigned Humanitarians Hero’s country.
8. Describe ways you can promote awareness, locally and internationally.

  • Regroup and ask students to share their findings
  • Ask student to write a short essay describing if their perception of what it means to be a humanitarian has changed, based on their definition on their index card (Take home assignment)
  • Assign students to design a presentation on the countries in crisis (Afghanistan, Central Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan & Syria) and share their findings with the class.
  • Brainstorm on different ways students can promote awareness

– Social media/Blogging
– Letter to the editor
– Letters to local and national organizations such as business, etc
– Volunteering- (Students can choose an organization of their choice. For reference: Young Humanitarian: American Red Cross, Volunteer in Your Community: International Rescue Committee, United Way

Additional Materials for Lesson Plan
Diary of AFS Driver David Annan

OCHA: Glossary of Humanitarian Terms – In relation to the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2003 http://un-interpreters.org/glossaries/ocha%20glossary.pdf
OCHA: Glossary of Humanitarian Terms – In relation to the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2003 http://un-interpreters.org/glossaries/ocha%20glossary.pdf
AFS International. Archival Collections- http://www.afs.org/afs-history-and-archives/about-the-archives/archival-collections/

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