Monthly Archives: May 2017

Practitioner Profile: Naomi Gikonyo – Recent Graduate of the IIHA Master’s in International Humanitarian Action

Naomi Gikonyo ensured refugees accessed food rations in Maban, South Sudan.

 

Naomi Gikonyo has designed emergency response interventions amidst humanitarian crises around the world – from Kenya to South Sudan, Haiti to Libya – for nearly a decade. Currently she works as an Emergency Preparedness and Response Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). This month she also graduates with a Master’s Degree in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA) through the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University.

Here she reflects on her vast experiences in the humanitarian sector.

How did you get started in the humanitarian field?

Like many people in the humanitarian field, it was purely coincidental. I first began to intern with International Medical Corps (IMC) and as a result, I ended up working with them for almost eight years in a variety of areas including finance, logistics, and then finally programs.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

I enjoy working in the humanitarian field to contribute to something larger than myself. Each emergency is different so it is difficult to specifically say which is my greatest accomplishment, but I have participated or led several emergency responses in relatively difficult contexts.

I have been deployed at the height of emergencies to set up operations from scratch, and I have bonded and worked with individuals from all different walks of life, which I am proud of. It is humbling to be able to offer assistance to people who are vulnerable and looking to you to provide support in their time of need. This is what drives me.

The most fulfilling mission I have ever had is working in South Sudan. It is a difficult country to work in, but overall each of the missions is different and I do not categorize them as one being better than the other. Each experience is important to me in a variety of ways. It is more the people you work with – this is what is crucial in this line of work.

What is the most difficult experience you have had?

At the height of an emergency there is a great deal of pressure, usually in life or death situations. The most difficult task for me was setting up operations in South Sudan right after the conflict began at the end of 2013. It is a particularly difficult country to work in, not only in terms of access, but security as well. This includes harsh working conditions in the middle of nowhere without any of the resources you usually take for granted. It is basically you, your team, limited supplies, and one vehicle. Essentially you have to hit the ground running. Setting up operations, with heightened tensions, along with limited resources is always a challenge.

In addition to being a student, you served as a tutor during last year’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) course in New York. What were some of your main take-aways from this experience?  

It is fascinating coming back as a tutor after being a student. The IDHA is a very enriching course for most people, because students and lecturers come together to cross-pollinate ideas. It is a mid-career course where all of the participants have significant (humanitarian) field experience or some experience in other sectors. It is therefore a very interactive environment. The students learn as much from the faculty and lecturers as they do from themselves. They build networks for life with people from different perspectives and different backgrounds. There are 40 people from 29 different countries who participated in IDHA 48 and as a result there is a lot of diversity and perspective in the group. I experienced this as a student as well and I am still in touch with most of my classmates from IDHA 29, seven years later. It is definitely one of the more interesting courses offered at Fordham and in the humanitarian sector.

What was your favorite part of IDHA 48?

I find the case studies very interesting. I also enjoyed the guest lecturers. It was interesting to get perspectives from different areas of work that I did not have previous exposure to, such as the Ebola response or the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, which I found fascinating. I also enjoyed reflecting and gaining new perspectives about contexts I have worked in. It is hard to pick one highlight, but what I find most useful in the course is being able to listen to and reflect upon so many different perspectives. I also met some colleagues from WFP in the course and it was interesting to interact with them and hear their various experiences from the field.

What is one of the strengths of the IDHA course?

A strength of the course is that it is very adaptive. It is not rigid, but rather quite fluid. A lot of content shared on IDHA 48 is very different from when I was a student. When the faculty and students bring their current experience to the course, the content changes accordingly because of the knowledge in the room. It is nice to see the evolution of this sharing and learning.

What are largest challenges in humanitarian work today?

A lot of people say it is issues of access or funds, but I would say the level of complexity of the problems that we are dealing with is so great that the system has not necessarily been able to evolve as quickly in order to properly address these needs. We are struggling to adapt as fast. The game has changed but the players have remained the same, whether this be the scope of migration issues or politicization of aid. In general, these issues have intensified, but the humanitarian architecture has stayed the same. There have been attempts to evolve or adapt but they have not been sufficient enough to match the level of complexity we are dealing with. It remains a fundamental challenge to the system overall if we are to deal with future issues.

 

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Asylum Seekers Find Refuge in NYC Grassroots Organizations

 

New York City, May 8, 2017 In his home of Nigeria, Audu Kadiri was a relentless humanitarian: a human rights and healthcare advocate working on behalf of HIV/AIDS patients. But when he began to stand up against draconian laws criminalizing access to healthcare for the LGBTI community he faced opposition and eventually threats to his life.

Today he is in exile in New York City, waiting for his asylum interview that would allow him to fully start his life over. As a community activist at African Communities Together, he has not stopped in his pursuit of justice.

Last month, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) and the Graduate Program in International Political Economy and Development hosted Audu at a Fordham University event entitled, Seeking Refuge in New York City. He was joined by Ellie Alter, Associate Director of Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RiF); Sydney Kornegay, Director of RDJ Shelter for asylum seekers; and Ahmed Awney, a Libyan architect, filmmaker, and asylum seeker.

Asylum seekers enter the country with a visa, such as a student or tourist visa. They apply for asylum upon arrival to seek protection from persecution, because of their religion, sexuality, political affiliation, or other reasons.

In other countries this process is commonly known as “Refugee Status Determination” in which an asylum seeker applies for refugee status, affording them sanctuary in their first country of arrival. The very lucky few, roughly one percent, are resettled to another country. The United States has had a long-tradition of resettling refugees after a long vetting process. Resettled refugees receive assistance from governmental agencies for access to housing, job placement, and documentation, which is not the case for asylum seekers.  

According to RiF, approximately 40,000 people applied for asylum in New York City in 2016 while 215 refugees were resettled in the city from abroad.   

“Resettled refugees are immediately assigned an organization, one of nine NGOs contracted by the US government, to support them from the day they get here with the basic needs that anyone should receive coming into the US as a refugee. In contrast, “when an asylum seeker gets here they are really facing a long road of a lack of support. There are not a ton of resources out there that we can lead them to, unfortunately…RiF was founded to fill this void of initial support,” explained Ellie.

Because asylum seekers arrive to a host country immediately after fleeing, they are often ill-prepared for the challenges ahead. In the United States, they have no legal right to work until they complete an arduous and lengthy application process. A shortage of attorneys who take asylum cases forces many to apply with little to no legal guidance, lowering their chances of securing protection. Furthermore, this application process causes many to live in what feels like perpetual limbo for asylum seekers who are also far from their families and support systems.

Many, therefore, rely on grassroots organizations like RiF and RDG Shelter to provide food, shelter and legal guidance. Organizations like these also offer physical and psychological space for community and acceptance in a foreign country.

When communities open their doors to asylum seekers, they participate in humanitarian action in their own backyards. Volunteers in New York dedicate their time to teaching English, cooking meals, organizing fundraisers, representing them in court, and donating food. Most importantly, they offer companionship, which the panelists agreed is a rewarding commitment.

“Just show up, show your face…that means a lot to a grassroots organization like ours,” said Ellie.

In today’s political climate, many asylum seekers waiting for their interviews fear they may not be successful in their pursuit of protection as they initially hoped.

“They are leaving it all behind, it is not easy. You are leaving all you have, all you have worked for to come to a new life,” said Audu.

In order to protect asylum seekers and other immigrants in the United States, Audu advocates that refugees and asylum seekers must be “shown respect instead of being looked at like a liability or a pest….and viewed as a human first, one who simply needs assistance.”

To learn more, watch the event on Facebook Live.

Rosalyn Kutsch, IIHA Student Outreach Intern

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Propel Your Humanitarian Career Forward

International Diploma In Humanitarian Assistance

Shaping Humanitarian Leaders

LIMITED SPOTS STILL OPEN for IDHA 50

Media reports and images inundate the world with humanitarian crises: refugees drowning at sea, populations ravaged by famine, and seemingly endless conflicts. Collective and coordinated responses to humanitarian crises have never been more essential. Good intentions to respond and act must be informed by practical experience, technical knowledge, and academic critique.

Grounded in social justice and humanitarian ethics, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University endeavors to make the global response to humanitarian crises more sustainable, effective, and dignified. Through the intersection of critical academic analysis and concrete hands-on experience, we believe that humanitarian action can transform the world.

Photo provided by IDHA Alumnus Rahul Singh, Founder of GlobalMedic Mission

The International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA), the flagship program of the IIHA, equips mid-career humanitarian professionals to drive the humanitarian sector of the future in a more innovative direction. For 20 years, the IIHA has trained thousands of humanitarian workers in cities around the world – from Kathmandu to Amman, Geneva to Cairo.

This June the IIHA will commence its 50th IDHA course in New York City and we want you to join us! IDHA 50 students will join a cohort of diverse and highly qualified aid and development professionals from all over the world in a one-month intensive course to receive one-of-a-kind training from world-renowned experts in the humanitarian field.

The course provides the critical skills and knowledge to more effectively intervene in the complex emergency and protracted crises of the 21st century. The curriculum is highly interactive and participants will gain:

  • Extensive insight to the needs of people affected by conflict, disaster, and displacement;
  • Skills in facilitating cooperation and dialogue between international, governmental, and non-governmental agencies;
  • Awareness, understanding, and skills essential for effective service in emergency and protracted humanitarian crises;
  • Opportunities to collaborate and network with colleagues working for diverse international, governmental, and non-governmental humanitarian agencies;
  • Tools to evaluate interventions and identify examples of good practice; and
  • Methods for anticipating and preventing humanitarian crises.

Upon completion of the course, graduates will receive eight graduate level credits accepted towards a Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action at Fordham University, or potentially their studies at other academic institutions.

Course Fee: $5,500 includes tuition, course materials, lodging, and all weekday meals for one month.

Applications are still open for the New York course in June and another IDHA course in Vienna, Austria from November 5 to December 1, 2017.

Visit the IIHA website to learn more and apply.

Housed at Fordham, the Jesuit University of New York, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) educates a future generation of humanitarians in the classroom, shapes humanitarian leaders in the field, and innovates solutions to challenges in humanitarian crises.

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Humanitarian Innovation Rooted in Local Context

New York City, May 5, 2017 – From mobile cash transfers to drones, solar-powered water pump to prosthetic limbs, the democratization of technology has the possibility to revolutionize humanitarian response.

International organizations have recently forged the way for such innovative ventures by joining forces with tech companies from the private sector, piloting new and impressive solutions that can save lives during emergencies, and supporting visionary ideas for the future of humanitarianism. Many of these efforts, however, are unknown to the general public, and have rarely trickled down to local communities confronting humanitarian challenges.

Instead, what if local organizations and leaders on the ground – churches, schools, and community based organizations – were prepared to use, adapt, and design impactful technologies for disaster response? What if the humanitarian sector embraced risk, and possibly failure, as a modus operandi in order to develop the most refined and contextual solutions possible? What if private companies used humanitarian indicators to measure the impact of their engagement with local communities? Can we imagine a future where existing technologies are not just used, but actually introduced by local communities to save lives?

These questions are at the core of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Hub (IIHA InnoHub), recently launched by IIHA Humanitarian Innovation Fellow and founder of High Tech Humanitarians, Giulio Coppi.

“(In development) it’s considered impossible to start a project without a community-based strategy behind it, while in the humanitarian sector it’s still considered normal by some actors to arrive, bring your solution, turn your back, and be gone leaving nothing behind you. We are trying to move away from this,” Giulio said in a recent Terms of Reference Podcast by Aidpreneur.

Open source potential. Giulio first realized the glaring gap in innovation for humanitarian action while working in Afghanistan and Cote D’Ivoire where he monitored the security situation for his teams using common tools like Twitter or by creating his own dynamic maps to track the movement of people and conflicts. Relying on these very basic information structures while knowing more effective options existed on the open source market was frustrating at best.

“There is a need for open source solutions to the current problems affecting humanity…This is important because in most patents or licenses are either too expensive or are not protecting technology.  Local markets are either not interesting for logistic distributors…or the items are just out of reach for most organizations and communities in the field.”

The IIHA InnoHub and High Tech Humanitarians seek to fill this gap by congregating as many open source technological tools as possible, adapting them to humanitarian contexts, and sharing them with diverse humanitarian actors through an online “toolbox.”

To be included in the toolbox, the technologies must be open source, ethically in line with humanitarian principles, and adapted for humanitarian action. They could include software, 3D printing, prosthetic manufacturing, excavators, water pumps, drones, or even small satellites.

“Each tool you find in the toolbox has its own history, its own community, its own people who believed in this idea and brought it forward. Some of these communities are still supporting the tools so you can get in touch and ask them for support. Some of those aren’t so they’ll need you to engage with the tool and find people to modify, adapt, and evolve it.”

Local solutions is the future. The World Humanitarian Summit, Giulio said, was an indicator that the sector is moving toward more innovation-centered response, but there is a long way to go until innovation is embraced as priority in the sector and reaches local communities best placed to utilize them.

“There is a need for localizing innovation processes instead of centralizing them…to provide local organizations and local humanitarian actors…with the tools.”

The IIHA InnoHub hopes to help bridge this gap by involving crisis-affected communities in the development of technological tools that mitigate complex emergency situations.

“We don’t need a perfect product. We need to empower communities and humanitarians to be contributors, to be those who provide the solution.”

In addition to sponsoring research on this topic, the IIHA InnoHub will conduct trainings and workshops on innovation for humanitarian action.

The first IIHA InnoHub course in Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action will be offered  from July 6 to 10 in New York City.

To learn more follow us on Twitter at @iiha_fordham

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer

 

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