Monthly Archives: June 2017

Robert De Niro to 2017 IDHA Graduates: “You Are My Heroes”

In his commencement address to the 50th graduating class of Fordham’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA), legendary Hollywood actor Robert De Niro urged the humanitarian aid workers to let their “inner humanitarian” guide them into making the world a better place.

The ceremony, held on June 30 at the Lincoln Center campus, honored 25 IDHA graduates and two recipients of the Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action program. The students hailed from 17 countries around the world, including Italy, Tajikistan, New Zealand, Egypt, Poland, and Pakistan.

Before addressing the graduates, the Oscar-winning actor, whose film credits include Taxi Driver, The Godfather: Part II, Raging Bull, and who appeared most recently as Bernard Madoff in HBO’s The Wizard of Lies, commended his longtime friend Kevin Cahill, M.D., IIHA’s founder, as a “man of great culture and enormous warmth.”

“Like many of you, he had an instinct for finding himself in places where the need was greatest,” De Niro said.

The actor told the graduates that they too were “true humanitarians” because they “served with compassion and dignity” while making sacrifices and taking “heroic risks.”

“Now you’ve gone through this program so that you can perform your work more effectively,” he said. “You have distinguished yourself here, and you will take those lessons with you for the rest of your life.”

De Niro, who received an honorary diploma, said that while many people might solely deem humanitarian workers as “wonderful people doing heroic work,” he considered them “shining examples of what can be achieved when you find the humanitarian hidden inside.”

“By inspiring others, you increase your impact exponentially,” he said before reading the names of the entire graduating class. “You are my heroes,” he told them.

Bart Vermeiren, who delivered the IDHA participant address, said completing the program is a huge milestone.

“We all embark on a new or old journey in our lives, but one day or another, sooner or later, we will use our IDHA wisdom and put it into practice with our learning experiences to the benefit of ourselves, and, most importantly, to the benefit of the people in need,” he said.

It’s a message that resonated with Naomi Gikonyo, a humanitarian practitioner with nearly a decade of experience in emergency response interventions in countries including Haiti, Libya, South Sudan, and Kenya.

“This program has pushed me to apply a lot of what I’ve learned into the field,” said Gikonyo, who works as an emergency preparedness and response officer for the United Nations World Food Programme. “It’s instrumental because we’re dealing with humanitarian crises with high complexities.”

Dr. Cahill told the graduates not to be afraid of the challenges ahead. “You have the ability to go over barriers, to not be blocked in by academic barriers or those barriers that separate us from each other,” he said.

After 20 years of courses and 3,000 participants representing 140 nationalities, Larry Hollingworth, director of humanitarian programs at Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, which runs the IDHA program, said IDHA continues to create impact.

“We are in that unique position that we’re not in uniform, but we find ourselves on the front line,” he told the graduates, whom he said are leading emergency medicine in makeshift hospitals, opening schools in remote camps, and “staying on when others have left.”

“Stand up for you values, and your beliefs. Do what you want to do. Be bold and be brave.”

This article was originally published by Fordham News.

 

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Migrant Diaries: Insights from the border of Mexico and Guatemala

June 16, 2017 – “Our group wasn’t carrying much: a cross, a banner, and a bunch of palms and flowers that were being sold in the market to mark Palm Sunday. The point of crossing was to make a symbolic start on the Guatemalan side. And that’s what we did,” recalls Dr. Lynne Jones of her recent field mission to the border of Guatemala and Mexico.

Dr. Jones has worked as a child psychiatrist with migrants around the world. She recounts the narrative those who impacted her on a recent visit to Chiapas, Mexico on the FrançoisXavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (FXB) blog. Read more here.

Our fall course, Mental Health in Complex Emergencies, will delve into issues of psycho-social support for people affected by humanitarian crises under the direction of Dr. Lynne Jones this fall in Amman, Jordan.

You can read more from Dr. Jones in her new book Outside The Asylum: A Memoir of War, Disaster and Humanitarian Psychiatry.

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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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Filed under Alumni Updates, Practitioner Profile

IIHA Annual Report 2015-2016

In a year of ongoing global social justice issues, the CIHC and IIHA continue to bridge the gap between academia and humanitarian efforts. The success of the IIHA over the past year can be seen in the work of its students and alumni from around the world dedicated to solving humanitarian challenges.  The 2015-2016 Annual Report records the meaningful work of the IIHA over the past year and gives insight into the humanitarian efforts of its alumni. Read the report to learn more.

 

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