Tag Archives: Milestones in Humanitarian Action

Milestones Testimony: Florian Razesberger

This is an abbreviated version of a testimony written by IDHA Alumnus and Tutor Florian Razesberger (IDHA 20), featured in Milestones in Humanitarian Action, available for purchase on the Fordham Press website.

When I first learned about the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA), I was advised that it was probably not for me. A friend was taking the course at the time, and she thought that with my profile and background, I should look for a different course. “After all, you are a lawyer,” she said.

I am, in fact, a lawyer by education, and my work always has had some connection to legal issues; however, I have never been content to sit in a corporate office, trading my lifetime away for money I did not need. To be reduced to the stereotype of a lawyer — tough but boring, a technical stickler, colorless in suit and humor, unscrupulous, and most importantly, greedy — annoys me to no end.

I decided to apply to the IDHA for the same reason I decided to study law a decade earlier: curiosity. Back then I had absolutely no idea what law was about, but when I applied to the IDHA, I thought I had at least some idea about humanitarian assistance. After all, the work I had done as a lawyer always related to the situations of conflict, but mostly from a legal side. Yet when I looked at the IDHA curriculum, subjects like humanitarian reform, logistics, or camp management did not tell me anything. Only on the “law day” was there some beacon of clarity within the whole program. The rest was unknown.

What I knew was the routine of everyday work. At the time, I was working on rule of law issues in Macedonia, preparing trainings on war crimes for judges and human rights workshops for young lawyers. It was time for something different. Winter was coming and November in the Balkans is a rather bleak affair. The prospect of learning about a completely foreign subject for a whole month in a place like Nairobi, with people I had never met, and who came from different fields and from different countries I had never visited, was a “no-brainer.” My boss initially suspected that all of this was a cover for a safari trip and a vacation on the Mombasa beaches, but eventually he agreed to let me go for the month. It turned out to be a different kind of safari. Someone once referred to the IDHA as a humanitarian boot camp, and there is certainly some truth to this. My colleagues in Macedonia suspected that I would be having idle fun among giraffes and white sand, but that was not the case.

To be basically locked up in a compound, which took the innocent shape of a convent run by caring nuns; to be put to work for four weeks in a row; to come up time and again with reasonable, presentable products; to take exams every Monday; to write a research paper over the weekends; and to sit in class 50 hours each week while staying up until the wee hours with colleagues in order to prepare presentation each Friday — that can be a hell of a ride. Especially when raw emotions take over, exhaustion caused by information-overload creeps in, and frustrations mount as, for some strange reason, your team members do not always agree with your opinions.

The formal education I received in the first two decades of my life differed vastly from the education I received from the IDHA. I had learned to be better than others, to measure myself against my colleagues and aspire to beat them; now, as an IDHA student, I had to learn to be a team player. Our teachers told us we would be together for every day of every week, and worst of all, that we would be graded as a group for out output, and not as individuals. Four long weeks lay ahead of me.

The IDHA was a turning point for me. As I moved to new places and tasks, I felt comfortable taking the lead in certain situations. I became an active leader, despite my insecurities, and over time I became a trainer, a public speaker, and also a manager. The IDHA syndicate work showed me how to communicate better, not only in the context of humanitarian aid, but also as a partner, a family member, and a friend.

Emotions often get the better of us, not only in situations of war and crisis, but also in our everyday lives. The IDHA taught me how important it is to respond constructively and respectfully, and even when you are pushed beyond your personal boundaries, to make rational decisions.

The course was an ideal way to test my limits, to measure myself in situations that push me out of the comfort zone and provide me with the opportunity to grow. It is only when our guard goes down, when we are tired, annoyed, bored, and irritated, that we are able to learn about sides of ourselves we never knew existed.

In the end, the IDHA is about the passionate moments, big and small: the moments in the syndicates, during fights or during jokes; the moments in the classroom, during the talks and during the breaks; the moments in the hours after class and during the sleepless nights. Those I take with me.

 

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Milestones in Humanitarian Action Chronicles Two Decades of Impact through Education

8 September 2017, New York – The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC), Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA), and Fordham University Press are proud to announce the publication of Milestones in Humanitarian Action by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D.

Milestones in Humanitarian Action is the tale of a quarter-century long effort to improve responses to complex humanitarian crises that emerge during or after wars, or as sequelae of natural disasters. The book chronicles the impact of humanitarian education through the reflections of the organizations’ founders, students, instructors, and tutors.

Founded in 1992, the CIHC originated from a conversation between Dr. Cahill and his friend and patient, former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, about one of the main challenges he encountered as United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General in the former Yugoslavia:

“Non-governmental organizations and humanitarian workers [who] are often poorly trained and uncoordinated, causing endless and unnecessary problems.”

This insight led Dr. Cahill “down a path of inquiry and exploration.” He began developing  the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) – a formal and academically-sound training program for humanitarian workers.

“I have aimed to redefine humanitarian relief work as not merely the actions of ‘do-gooders’, but as a distinct new profession, and to confer legitimacy on humanitarians who seek to build bridges to peace and understanding in times of war,” writes Dr. Cahill in the book.

The IDHA is a comprehensive, effective, and practical training program which continues to inform the work and efforts of health workers, military personnel, lawyers, and aid workers globally. Over the course of 20 years, more than 3,000 humanitarian aid professionals from 140 nations have taken the IDHA and other humanitarian programs offered by the CIHC and IIHA in Barcelona, Geneva, Kathmandu, New York, Nairobi, and beyond.

Due to the growing interest in humanitarian studies, Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs now offers a Master’s in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA) for humanitarian professionals as well as a Major in Humanitarian Studies – one of only four such undergraduate programs in the world.

Milestones in Humanitarian Action focuses on the IDHA’s impact on 12 select graduates.

“The IDHA acted as a springboard to my international humanitarian career. In my opinion, the most unique thing about the course is not only the wide breadth of experience and talent that it brings together, but also the indelible bonds it creates amongst its alumni,” writes Naomi Gikonyo, a recent MIHA graduate.

Argentina Szabados, IDHA 2 alumna and CIHC Board Member, is the Regional Director of South-Eastern Europe, Europe, and Central Asia for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In the book, she expresses the unique value of the IDHA:

“IDHA students do not simply sit and listen to lectures; they shape the direction of the course. That is the genius of the IDHA and of an interdisciplinary curriculum that combines academic theory with the practical experience of seasoned professionals.”

Milestones in Humanitarian Action ends with a speech given by Former United Nations Secretary General and CIHC co-founder Boutros Boutros-Ghali who led UN efforts to prioritize preventive diplomacy, using “universally understood semantics of health, disease, and medicine.” When asked about his most significant legacy in a final interview at the age of 93, the former Secretary General responded, “My work with Dr. Cahill in the mid-1990s on preventive diplomacy.”

Similarly in 1993, at the first CIHC conference, Mr. Vance said, “It is only in the last year or so that I have come to understand the importance of health issues in world affairs. The CIHC – an important new organization – and the vision, dedication, and drive of my friend, Dr. Kevin Cahill have informed us all about the ways that government, private groups, and international organizations can begin to care for the health and well-being of all.”

This mission rings true today. Looking forward, the CIHC and IIHA continue building upon the remarkable contributions of its founders, instructors, students, donors, and partners to shape leaders in the humanitarian field and, ultimately, improve the global response to a world in strife.

“I find comfort in the fact that our students will soon be out in the world, aiding the vulnerable, bearing witness to injustice, advocating against the obscenity of poverty, and contributing to their communities, each in their own special way,” concludes Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

To engage in our mission for effective humanitarian action, consider joining us in the following ways:

Press contact

Angela Wells
Communications Officer
Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs
+1-718-817-5303
awells14@fordham.edu

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