Long before David Shearer went into politics and became Opposition leader, he and his wife Anuschka Meyer worked for international aid agencies helping the poorest of the poor.

In 1992 they were chosen as Herald New Zealanders of the Year for the brave work they did for the Save the Children Fund in war-torn Somalia.

They worked tirelessly to help feed starving children in refugee camps - there could be as many as 25,000 at any one time.

It was no exaggeration to say that they were putting their lives on the line to save others.

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"Throughout the year they spent in Somalia's capital Mogadishu they were unwittingly caught up in the fighting raging between the two rival warlords," wrote Herald feature writer Jane Phare.

She recounted a number of incidents when Shearer and Meyer were held at gunpoint. They managed to talk their way out of trouble but despite the fear they were not deflected from their purpose.

"We didn't analyse it too much," Shearer told Phare. "We just had to carry on.

"There was always so much to do. I guess if we had thought too much about it we might have pulled out."

From the Herald archives:
'David Shearer: Battle-hardened in the war zones', NZ Herald online, 17 December 2011