Category Archives: Alumni Updates

Alumni Update: IDHA 50 Alumnus Alberto Preato speaks out on search and rescue missions and information campaigns for migrants in Niger

 Alberto Preato, IDHA 50 alumnus and Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism Programme Manager at UN Migration Agency (IOM) Niger, recently embarked on a search and rescue mission in northern Niger. IOM Niger recounts the mission and calls for greater focus on the plight of migrants in the region in their latest press release.

August 7, 2017, Dirkou – A total of 1,000 migrants have been rescued since April of this year in northern Niger by the search and rescue operations of IOM, the UN Migration Agency.

From 19-25 July, IOM conducted an assessment mission of migratory routes in the Ténéré desert and the area surrounding Niger’s border with Libya. The aim of the mission was to improve migrant rescues, by understanding better how to assist migrants in distress on that route and to strengthen the Government of Niger’s management migration capacity. A full report on the mission can be read here.

IOM together with Niger’s Department of Civil Protection (DCP) covered more than 1,400 km at the end of July in the northern part of the country to identify the challenges and changes in flows and migratory routes, whilst also rescuing more than 150 migrants in distress.

The search and rescue operations are an integral part of the Migrants Rescue and Assistance in Agadez Region (MIRAA) project, funded by the Government of the Netherlands, and which is complementary to the larger initiative, Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism (MRRM), developed by IOM Niger and financed by the European Union.

Since January, more than 60,000 individuals have been observed entering Niger, of which only half this number were counted leaving the country through the two flow monitoring points in Séguedine and Arlit. Compared to the previous year, there are much fewer migrants reported as both incoming and outgoing.

Following this latest assessment mission and seeing that more dangerous routes are being used by smugglers, IOM is looking at implementing new flow monitoring points in the country.

“I was shocked when, not far from the border between Niger and Libya in Toummo, we came across a large group of women mainly from Nigeria and Ghana sleeping in a dark hangar quite close to the border post, waiting for their next passage north,” said Alberto Preato, MRRM Programme Manager at IOM Niger.

“We need to better understand how trafficking and smuggling networks intersect, and to further increase our presence in these remote areas in order to provide information, assistance and alternatives to migrants in need,” Preato added.

Read more from the UN Migration Agency here.

 

 

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Reflection from Mohamed Idan, IDHA 23 Alumnus

I first learned about the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance course for aid workers and professional humanitarian actors in 2006. It seemed, on paper, as if the IDHA was especially designed for a person like myself: working in the developing world and searching to bring additional knowledge, skills and leadership abilities to their home communities. That would turn out to be true.

I attended IDHA 23, held in Nairobi in November 2007, on a scholarship. That generosity has enabled me to pass on to my own people – and others throughout the region – a skillset and way of looking at problems resulting in sustainable solutions. The course changed my whole conception of what it means to be a professional humanitarian aid worker. I honestly can say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the professional courses of the IDHA.

I was surprised when I was first told of IDHA founder Dr. Kevin Cahill’s familiarity with Somalia and Somaliland – advising top officials of various governments since the 1960s and more importantly, always assisting the people on the ground. I was surprised in the sense that many people have come to “help” and then gone on to the next crisis. Few have kept a consistent relationship for over a half-century. That is what friendship and  “humanitarian action” should mean. And that is what the IDHA courses mean as well. Dr. Cahill’s founding in 1994, with his friend and colleague, the honored Elder Abdulrahim Abby Farah, was a further continuation of that friendship. After the civil war ended, Dr. Cahill, Abdulrahim Abby Farah and the CIHC were able to fill a gap in the field at a time when the people of Somaliland needed such an organization. A problem was assessed and a solution utilizing the skills of the people of Hargeisa was found.

Personally, undergoing the IDHA 23 diploma shed light on my experiences and career, allowing me to work with many organizations. I have had the opportunity to work with UNESCO and Save the Children, where I became Program Coordinator of Education for Emergencies projects. From there, I went to the International Organization for Migration as Program Officer for Mixed Migration/Counter Human Trafficking. I was later appointed to a national officer post. Currently, I am Head of Office for the International Organization for Migration in the Hargeisa Sub-Office where I supervise 20 national staff implementing six projects, including WASH/Health, institutional capacity building, migration management, emergency assistance, and voluntary return and reintegration programs.

It was the IIHA team’s encouragement and persistence that taught me that I can accomplish what I set out to do and be the finest professional. I also learned to expect these same high standards from my colleagues. I know that I am capable, but it will take hard work and lots of dedication. Your team promoted an environment where I felt like I was able to not only share my contributions but also to know my input was also considered and appreciated. If I can pass that wisdom onto others, the training and support the IIHA offered me was a smart investment.

I have had many teachers in my life and I can honestly say none has inspired me as much as Larry Hollingworth. He really goes the extra mile – sometimes the extra 10 miles – for students.

I hope to become an individual that makes your institution proud, epitomizingthe values the IIHA stands for and by which you have built your highly-regarded reputation.

Your generosity has inspired me to help others and give back to the community who need my professional services. I promise you I will work very hard and continue to give back to others, too.

Thank you again for your generosity and support Kevin Cahill.

Mohamed Idan

National Officer/Officer in Charge
Hargeisa Office
IOM Mission for Somalia

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Ruth Jebb, Humanitarian Nurse and IDHA Alumna, Awarded Florence Nightingale Medal for Exceptional Courage and Devotion

Ruth Jebb at work during a cholera outbreak in Torit, South Sudan

July 17, 2017, New York – In her everyday life in Brisbane, Australia, Ruth Jebb (IDHA 37 alumna) works as a Clinical Nurse Consultant at a large tertiary hospital, but when disaster strikes abroad she takes on the role of nurse and midwife as an emergency responder deployed with the Red Cross and the Australian Medical Assistance Team.

Throughout her myriad of deployments she has provided lifesaving care during earthquakes in New Zealand and Nepal, typhoons in the Philippines, conflict in South Sudan, cholera outbreaks in Chad, among other trying situations. More recently, she has focused on training local health care responders in community health provision, psychosocial support, and maternal, neonatal and child health care.

Twelve years after beginning her humanitarian health care career in northern Kenya, Ruth was awarded the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal this past May. The award acknowledges five Australians who have shown “exceptional courage and devotion to the sick, wounded or disabled in conflict or disaster zones.”

She was selected by a commission of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Council of Nurses.

Whether at home or in humanitarian situations abroad, Ruth remains committed to her responsibility to “support, mentor, teach and lead.” However, in humanitarian settings, the distinct lack of access to resources, intense workloads and contextual differences poses a more severe set of challenges.

“Back at home, I often take it for granted that we work in a protected environment, where people are able to access quality health care safely and efficiently. We have all the resources we need to provide care to those who need it. Often, when working in developing contexts and post-disaster environments, it can be heartbreaking hearing the stories of people travelling for days to reach health care facilities, or of those who never make it, often with ailments that require simple life-saving and life-changing interventions.  It can be confronting not being able to provide the same standard of care that we are so accustomed to back home.”

Security issues further impede these efforts, often adding another layer of complexity.

“Although personal safety is a priority it can be incredibly frustrating to be limited by security incidents that are occurring either directly or indirectly, especially when it involves life and death situations amongst the community you are there to assist.”

In 2007, she was deployed on a nine-month mission to manage the ICRC’s Therapeutic Feeding Center in Gereida, Darfur. Home to close to 145,000 internally displaced persons, Gereida was “a challenging mission, not only as a result of the direct impact of looking after so many unwell, undernourished and often dying children, but also because of the ongoing security risks that were a reality of our day-to-day life.”

Ruth recalls one incident when her vehicle was hijacked at gunpoint. She escaped the situation unscathed, but the access the team was allowed to have in that location was consequently impeded, drastically affecting the impact of their mission.

In spite of such challenges, Ruth managed patient intake and triaged thousands of patients in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, the deadliest in the country on record killing 6,300 people. She also coordinated the activities of four Red Cross hospitals and 6 mobile health units following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

On these missions, her main objective has been to offer training to local health care workers in pursuit of more sustainable disaster relief.

“Supporting and prioritizing capacity building is paramount in disaster response.  Not only does mentoring and training become an avenue for relationship building, but it also enhances local capacity for future disaster responses.  Committing to developing the skills and training of the local staff is also key to engagement and acceptance,” she said.

Honored to receive this award, Ruth accredits the motivation for her work to groups like the Australian Red Cross, who have an “unwavering commitment to helping those in need, whether it be locally or in our backyard, or in the context of an international humanitarian crisis.”

“For me the Red Cross embraces the responsibility of placing value upon humanity,” she says.

Ruth Jebb is an alumna of the IIHA’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance.

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer

Johanna Lawton, IIHA Communications Intern

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Practitioner Profile: Martine van der Does bridges humanitarian action and architectural design

New York, June 14, 2017 – An architect by trade, Martine van der Does now employs her unique expertise on functional design to improve the shelters that protect millions of people displaced from or affected by humanitarian crises around the world.

At the end of June, she will receive a Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action from Fordham University. We spoke with her about her interesting career path and the potential of design for humanitarian action.

What is the path you’ve taken in your career?

I grew up in the Netherlands and studied architecture, specializing in renovation and restoration. I did my Master’s thesis on the renovation of a Franciscan convent in Brazil.

Soon after that, I began volunteering in Africa and this is where my humanitarian career really began. After this, I returned to university to research emergency shelter models and then later continued my work in the field by taking a job as a construction logistician with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Niger.

I later secured a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Africa Department for the government of the Netherlands. In this role, I worked in Kabul, Afghanistan on various development projects, among which was the construction of a prison and air terminal.

I then moved back to The Hague where I am now mainly involved in the allocation of Dutch aid for direct response. I am the point of contact between the Ministry and the Red Cross movement. I am also an expert on the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination and on the roster of the European Civil Protection Mechanisms and can be deployed in an emergency.

Why did you make the switch from architecture to humanitarian work?

Not many trained architects end up working in humanitarian aid. But at some point, I just decided that I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I realized that I’m among the two percent of the world’s population that has had the opportunities I have. I wanted to use my skills to do something significant. I also get a lot of personal fulfillment from it, I love traveling, getting to know other cultures, and the adventure side of it.

In your humanitarian career, what has been the main difference between working for an NGO like MSF vs. in a government ministry for humanitarian assistance?

MSF is a very principled organization where beneficiaries always come first, but in government ministries there is always some level of political influence.

The other major difference between the two experiences was the level of insecurity. At the time I was in Niger, I was not in a conflict area and, especially working with MSF, I was able to engage with the community. We did have security restrictions in Niger, but I could move more freely than when I was in Afghanistan where I couldn’t move without security personnel. Attacks happened on a weekly basis; I could hear bombings and shootings regularly. When visiting projects in the field I often felt like an alien, because I was wearing a flak jacket and a helmet with a military escort. As a result, it took more effort to get to know people and to have an equal conversation.

What is the most significant lesson you’ve learned in the field?

One lesson is to always be yourself, but also be as respectful and observant to cultural norms as possible. Also, I really learned to be alert but trusting of others who sometimes have my life in their hands. When I am on mission with the government, our security officers are the ones making decisions about my security. I have to trust that if a security officer tells me that going to a meeting or on a field visit – no matter how important – is not safe, then I have to trust them.

What do you see for the future of humanitarian response?

Ideally, we wouldn’t need humanitarian response anymore, but this idealism is not very realistic as we look at the progressing crises of the world. Right now, a lot of support for humanitarian response comes from Western donors such as the European Union and the United States, but we need to diversify by reinforcing national and regional structures in disaster and conflict-affected areas so they have a greater capacity to deal with humanitarian crises. Local communities know the people, environment, culture, and places, so building up the local capacities through training should be the direction of the future.

I saw this work very well when I worked with MSF. I was on a team of construction engineers with people who grew up in Niger. They had received some education, but never had the opportunities to go abroad to study. MSF really prioritized training and offering courses to these national staff members. There was one man I worked with who was more knowledgeable than I and who I was really privileged to work with and learn from.  I recommended that he get more training and last year he emailed me to say that he did this training and has been promoted to an international staff member. This is the way I think organizations should allow their staff members to grow and the way that leadership within humanitarian agencies should be built.

Why did you decide to get more training and join the Master’s in International Humanitarian Action with Fordham?

In 2008, I joined the IDHA course in Geneva with the goal of entering the humanitarian field. I then enrolled in the Humanitarian Negotiators Course in Barcelona and I stayed in touch with Larry and the other students working in the field.

After I returned from Afghanistan in 2014, I heard that Fordham had started the Master’s in International Humanitarian Action program. I joined to continue with my training. The Institute really feels like a family and has given me the opportunity to reflect and look at certain subjects in the field on a deeper level than I can in my workplace.

Receiving the chance to really discuss humanitarian issues with people in field who each carry diverse perspectives adds a lot of value to my work, too. These perspectives often come from NGO or UN workers and are really enriching for me as an employee of a national ministry. My fellow students have given me a lot of insight into how other organizations work and the challenges they are facing.

Do you have any examples of this coming to life in practice?

When I arrived to respond to the earthquake in Nepal, I realized one of my tutors from the IDHA was leading the efforts of the International Federation of the Red Cross. Because I knew them and had worked with them, I began from a different point and this was very useful. I made the use of this network often in my work and for research for my thesis.

What issues did you research in your thesis for the Master’s degree?

Previously, I researched innovative materials for emergency shelters, but I did not have any humanitarian experience. Once I had worked in the sector, I wanted to merge my former background to develop a process for identifying design requirements for emergency shelters in humanitarian settings. This requires a lot of investigation and consideration because unlike building a house, you have logistical and cultural requirements that provoke a different set of standards.

My goal was to identify these requirements and look through history to see if architects have taken humanitarian standards into account in the past in their humanitarian designs. I also looked at the different standards organizations use for emergency shelters, such as the Sphere standards; gathered a lot of feedback from practitioners in the field; and analyzed the latest versions of emergency shelters, like the IKEA shelter for refugee camps.

I used all this information to develop a list of seven design requirements that constitute an ideal shelter in humanitarian settings.

Now that you have completed your MIHA degree, what is next for you?

I plan to take a year off from the Ministry to get back to the NGO sector as a delegate at International Committee of the Red Cross. I think I have more of an NGO heart than a political one.

I hope to one day lecture for the IDHA, too. I really appreciate the commitment of Larry and Tony and all the other people involved, and I feel it is also my responsibility to give back to the program.

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Syrian Voices: Customs and Traditions in Humanitarian Crises

Monday, March 6, 2017 – As conflict wages on in Syria, nearby countries have opened their doors to millions of new people seeking refuge. In Lebanon, one in four people is a Syrian refugee. While Lebanon is the biggest host of the five million Syrian refugees globally, truly integrating their neighbors into society has proved challenging for the small country where economic strains and competition for scarce resources is ever increasing.

House of Peace (HOPe) in Syria is striving to understand and address the evolving relationships of displaced persons within refugee populations, amongst their host communities and with non-governmental organizations.

Their new report, Syrian Voices, aims to raise voices, analyze opinions and propose positive recommendations for advancing integration and social peacebuilding. HOPe conducted workshops with around 300 participants, most of whom were Syrian refugees living in Lebanon but also Palestinians and Lebanese host community members.

“The main impetus behind this paper is helping people concerned with the Syrian crisis to see things from the eyes of those who are suffering the most; to contribute in bringing people from different points of views closer by helping them overcoming their prejudices and self-evident beliefs,” said Elias Sadkni, Director of HOPe and International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance 39 alumnus.

Restrictions to integration. A major finding of the report was the ways in which government policy and NGO modus-operandi surrounding refugee response in Lebanon have changed the ways in which Syrian communities relate each other and their hosts.

Strict residency and labor laws for Syrians in Lebanon have made securing employment particularly difficult for men. Women, however, are more easily able to find work opportunities in the informal labor market and through the support of vocational trainings and services provided by organizations.

Perhaps even more disconcerting was the effect that strict work restrictions had on fueling forced marriage or labor on children in the country. In 2016, some NGOs estimated between 60 and 70 percent of refugee children are working and Human Rights Watch reported that more than 250,000 Syrian children were out of school in Lebanon.

“Harsh regulations that prevent most refugees from maintaining legal residency or working are undermining Lebanon’s generous school enrollment policies…With 70 percent of Syrian families living below the poverty line in 2015, many cannot afford school-related costs like transportation and school supplies, or rely on their children to work,” said Human Rights Watch.

The Syrian Voices report reiterated this point adding that “participants felt Humanitarian and UN efforts are not prioritizing educational establishments for Syrian refugees; in addition to this issue, the majority of educational establishments in Lebanon refuse to accept Syrians.”

Blurring cultures. Despite the challenges that come with displacement, Syrian participants also expressed that social solidarity amongst their communities remained strong in exile. This solidarity at times extended into their relationships with their host communities, and in turn caused the lines between Syrian and Lebanese cultures to blur.

“Many participants felt that adapting to Lebanese culture is causing changes in the customs and traditions of Syrian refugees. Some expressed dismay at these changes, fear their permanency, and believe they have been a source of intra-communal tension, whilst others embrace them,” said the report.

Improved humanitarian intervention. Other focus groups with NGO representatives examined the complex role NGOs play in the Syrian crisis.

Representatives voiced concerns that “their presence at times has contributed to existing tensions or created new ones”, because they failed to partake in adequate contextual and cultural analyses before implementing projects. Others noted a lack of transparency between donors and the community.

Syria Voices ultimately concludes in a list of recommendations for the humanitarian community to improve their continuing intervention, suggesting that humanitarian organizations begin to truly address the root causes of suffering amongst Syrians in Lebanon by:

  • Ensuring and advocating for equal access to adult education, vocational training and employment opportunities for Syrian adults of both genders;
  • Developing mechanisms for effective child protection from exploitation;
  • Enhancing educational opportunities for children;
  • Truly engaging with Syrian and Lebanese communities to better understand conflict
  • Improving communication methods between agencies in order to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices; and
  • Promoting more positive and less stereotypically harmful narratives about Syrian refugees in Lebanese media.

Ultimately, HOPe believes this report can be a guiding resource for the humanitarian sector, one that encourages agencies to question and improve their increasingly important response to the Syrian crisis.

Syrian Voices is a research-initiated project aimed at spreading Syrian perspectives on issues of social peace. The goal of the paper is to inform the humanitarian community, allowing stakeholders to implement recommendations and best practices to help resolve conflict in Syria and surrounding areas.

Andrew Seger, IIHA Communications Intern

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IDHA Alumni Report from the Field: Hungarian Baptist Aid conducts fact finding mission in Erbil, Iraq

HBAIDHungarian Baptist Aid (HBAID) arrived to Erbil to explore more on the current humanitarian and security situation as well as to meet with national and representatives of international humanitarian NGOs working in this region. The aim of this visit is to potentially provide assistance right there at the root of the problem. As known since the Mosul’s military offense has started, the number of civilian and military casualties is continually increasing. There is an urgent need for medical assistance and humanitarian support in this region. According to UNHCR data, since the Mosul offensive began, 2,935 families have been displaced. Up to 1 million people will be affected by the operation in Mosul, and will become IDPs. HBAID is looking into possible assistance programs in the medical field and in the IDP and refugee situation.

As a first step members of the HBAID delegation are in the region to conduct prior assessments in order to understand the situation on the ground better and to meet with officials and possible partner organizations. The aim of these meetings is to find out what help could be efficiently offered by HBAID in the near future.

Anna Szenczy (IDHA 45, MIHA) and Sandor Horvath (IDHA 47) were members of the HBAID delegation.

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Alumni Update: Andy McElroy (IDHA 16, IDHA Lecturer)

Andy McElroy’s (IDHA 16, IDHA Lecturer) latest article for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), “Thailand’s ‘Madam Disaster champions risk reduction,” features disaster risk reduction journalist Ms. Darin Klong Ugkara’s message to move her media colleagues beyond “simply describing events and instead help their audiences better protect themselves from various hazards.”

 

 

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Alumni Update: Andy McElroy (IDHA 16, IDHA Lecturer)

Andy McElroy (IDHA 12, IDHA Lecturer) recently posted an article entitled “Typhoon Haiyan memory spurs ARISE commitment,” which talks about UNISDR’s Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE) network in the Philippines. UNISDR’s ARISE was established a year ago to encourage public-private partnership and achieve the aims of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. In the case of the Philippines, ARISE announced its commitment to strengthen partnerships in order to reduce disaster risk.

 

 

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Alumni Update: Pau Vidal, S.J. (IDHA 43)

Pau Vidal, S.J. (IDHA 43) of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) mission in Maban, South Sudan, has recently launched a new initiative: a monthly newsletter. The newsletter aims to update team members, supporters, donors, and friends on their current activities ranging from leadership workshops for youth, to vocational skills training programs for women.

 

 

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Alumni Update: Andy McElroy (IDHA 16, IDHA Lecturer)

Andy McElroy’s (IDHA 16, IDHA Lecturer) latest articles for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)  include “India hosts Asian Ministerial Conference,” which discusses an upcoming inauguration for the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR 2016) and  “Indian businesses to launch DRR fund,” which talks about the Secretary-General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Dr. A. Didar Singh’s call to “businesses, governments and donor agencies to establish a US$100 million Global United Fund for Disaster Risk Reduction.”

 

 

 

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