Aid Worker Voices

Putting out fires with gasoline

“Humanitarian aid work is more and more like firefighters. We are not the ones in charge of pursuing those causing the fire to stop them, we just jump from one emergency to the other, and that will not change things for good.”

-40yr old female expat aid worker

 

Putting out fires with gasoline
Just a short rant as I deal with my demented news feed.

The need for a coordinated, well resourced aid sector is, arguably, more acute just now than at any other time in history. The latest news from the UN  reports 20 million people- mostly children- are in danger of famine and starvation right now.

To be clear this is a human made disaster. War and famine ‘feed’ each other in a demented death spiral, continually, not just yet again.

These humanitarian crises are human made but, as the female expat aid worker notes above, those in the sector are just going from house to house trying to put out fires.  Could it be that they are -in part- using gasoline-laced water to out out these fires and that
gasoimagesline is the same that is powering the lifestyles and livelihoods of the neoliberal economy driven global north?

A call to action?
Going back through the data from our survey I came across this:

“Aid work, human rights instruments etc I think are most important for setting normative global cultural imperatives. “  – 40 yr old female, HQ based

I have argued in previous posts that if indeed [sociologist Emile] Durkheim was right in asserting that there is such as thing as a collective consciousness then aid and development workers are the conscience of our collective consciousness.  As such they should not just react to those in need but as well proactively work toward “…setting normative global cultural imperatives.”

Yes, summits are good.  Taking principled stands, such as with MSF’s withdrawal from participation in the WHS, is also good.   Establishing and urging the adherence to a sector-wide core standard is very good, but still surely reactive.

What more can be done to have aid worker voices more demonstratively part of the conversation about how we organize and live our lives?  Focused with the right kind of organizational lens the collective insights of sector workers could move the needle forward.  It may be worth a try, but I suspect there are few if any social engineers visionary or powerfully positioned enough to construct such a lens.

imagesA reason to professionalize the sector
There are many good reasons to continue moving forward in ‘professionalizing’ the sector, and the one I am suggesting here is to have aid worker voices heard at the highest levels.  I know that this is tilting at windmills, but if humanity has hope it lies not with politicians or CEO’s but with those who know the most about our needs individually and as members of this unevenly globalized world.  We need to follow our conscience.

May we all continue the struggle to ensure pathways to dignity for all, including ourselves.

To rant back click here.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Voices to come: still listening, commenting, and partnering

Voices to come:  still listening, commenting, and partnering

Though Aid Worker Voices was published last September, my work in listening to aid and development workers did not end with that benchmark.  Quite the opposite, in the last six months I have been in close contact with many interesting souls working in the sector both here in my home country and around the world.

Of immediate note are two major projects currently in the works.

Screenshot 2017-03-06 16.41.51

Local aid workers
My blog post on Zambian aid workers caught the eye of Filipino aid worker Arbie Baguios, and I am working with him now to learn more about the views of aid and development workers in the Philippines.  With a population of over 100 million, there are many thousands of Filipinos doing aid and development work, some for domestic organizations such as the Philippine Disaster Relief Organization (PeDRO), others for transnational organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and many even working in the CSR branches of private businesses.

Arbie and I will work to find out what these many voices have to say about the sector as it exists in the Philippines and report and comment on what we learn in the coming weeks.

Screenshot 2017-03-09 15.00.30

LGBTQI+ aid workers
Veteran aid worker Ryan Arias Delafosse helped to spread the word about a survey that was the basis for the chapter on (and blog post about) LGBTQI+ women and men in the sector.  Though that research six months ago shed light on man
y questions, we both felt that more voices needed to heard on a range of additional, mostly HR related, issues.  The new survey we are working on will be a collaborative effort vetted by Ryan and other industry insiders. Our focus will be on both LGBTQI+ workers and non-LGBTQI+ friends, colleagues, family, and local staff as allies.

Some questions we are considering include

  • How do aid workers handle visa applications for their wives, husbands, and partners when planning for deployment to
    countries with anti-LGTBQI+ laws?
  • In what ways is day to day life impacted both at work and during non-work hours and what are the risks -and rewards- in both settings for LBGTQI+ workers?
  • How important are non-LGBTQI+ allies? Are they critical for both emotional and physical security/sanity in the field, at HQ, and in life in general?  How does one know if they are being an effective ally?  What are mistake allies make when trying too little or too hard?
  • What functions do social networking sites serve for LBGTQI+ workers?

Second, revised edition of Aid Worker Voices?
In conversations with both colleagues here on campus and in the sector the observation is made that books are very ‘old school’.  As a professor at Elon University I have gone paperless in my teaching in the last six months, and am currently using an online text for my Intro to Sociology class, supplemented by hyperlinked readings, videos, and web sites.  All of my courses have been blog-based for the last half decade.

Veteran aid blogger and fellow academic Tobias Denskus and I have talked about the trend toward more multi-media rich platforms for transmitting knowledge, and we both see this as a more or less permanent change in how we consume information -even research- both within our academic fields and in our daily lives.

Perhaps no great loss to humanity, there may never be a second or expanded version of Aid Worker Voices.  Perhaps the best that I can hope for is that the smart screen writer who finally turns Evil Genius’ riveting story of Mary-Anne’s experiences in Dolo Ado (Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfits) into a movie will use my insights on the moral career of aid workers as deep research.

I can hear the St. George’s clinking in Billy-Bob’s now…

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.  In the meantime I can be reached by clicking here.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Why are you here?

Why are you here?
No, seriously, why are you right now reading this blog post? Inherent of what is this behavior?  What can you gain by investing a few minutes reading this post?images

I suspect that you visit any number of similar social media sites on a fairly regular basis for…the same reasons as you are here, now.

But why?

Some answers
The list of aid worker oriented social media sites is long, and in a blog post many months ago (“Using the Interwebs: networking and blogging sites hosted by or geared to aid and development workers”) I listed many ‘popular’ sites and offered an answer to the question I posed above.  Here’s what I said back then,

“All [social media sites] serve to affirm, inform, amuse and facilitate networking of all manner and, in some cases, to amplify snarkiness in an echo-chamber fashion. I believe that the sector is well served by these means of communication; the impact is a net positive. As humans we all have a strong need to feel that we are not alone in our experiences, emotions, perceptions and struggles, and on the whole these sites serve in affirming that we are not alone.  A sector that knows itself better can function more efficiently, one might assert. That said, the various moments of ‘vetting’ can get quite snarky at times and can contribute to self defeating cynicism in some cases.”

Indeed, that is the very premise of this blog and the book that came out of earlier posts.  You are here because the short time spent on this page serves to connect you to and to deepen your understanding of your ‘tribe’ or at least to those for which you feel some affinity. Gaining knowledge about those in your real (or aspirational) network can facilitate relationships and bring us together.

Many sites serve as a sounding board for HR related issues (Fifty Shades of Aid), others link together those who share similar ascribed and achieved statuses (AidMamas, Womeninaid, GAYdworker) and some keep us up to date with issues within the sector (Aidnography, WhyDev among others). Finally, there are some that just stimulate our imaginations while offering insightful and often bitingly accurate perspectives on the sector.  We’re looking at you, Evil Genius.

I must add, to be obvious, that all those team house, karaoke bar, and water cooler discussions serve these functions as well.   The two outlets -social media and f2f- are not separate though in many cases social media sites tend to be more “me talk, you listen’ (Aidworkervoices is a good example of this).

Another answer: evolutionary psychology and aid workers
Visiting sector-focused social media sites serves also to feed our natural hunger for gossip.  The premise of the evolutionary imagespsychology of gossip is that in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) knowing the business of others was a social and hence survival advantage, helping us to differentiate between friends and foes, those we can trust and those we can’t.  Wanting to know about the lives of others in our social network is wired into our minds and behaviors.  Though gossip has a bad reputation, it is indeed part of who we are.

So, investing a few minutes in a site called “Aid Worker Voices” seems like a natural and reasonable investment in time.  In any case, I hope you have found some value in this post and in this blog in general.

And that’s all I have for a Sunday evening.  Send me a note if you have comment or thoughts.  I’ll feel affirmed if you do.

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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An observation from SupGaleano, a ‘local aid worker’

Some (further) thoughts on the big picture
Unpacking the ‘big German philosophical guns’ in a blog post entitled From impact to transformation: Do-Gooders, Multicolored Saviors and development as lifestyle my colleague from Sweden Tobias Denskus points out that, “You can have ‘impact’ without social transformation, you can contribute to positive change while underlying social structures remain intac and you can ‘reduce poverty’ while inequality is rising at the same time”.

Yep.

In a post [warning:  long read] turned into a chapter for Aid Worker Voices I give a theory based and somewhat detailed look at the observation Dr. Denskus makes.   I conclude that moving the needle forward permanently with regard to povery-related social issues is at best extraordinarily difficult and is indeed perhaps not impossible.  Human agency – 0, the inexorable algorithm of capitalism – 1.

A charge from Marcos?
Twice I have had the privilege of visiting  the symbolic home of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation o378099_747879691123_499699228_nEZLN in Oventic, Chiapas, Mexico and I have long been a consumer and student of the EZLN’s rhetoric, most particularly that of Subcomandante Insurgent Galeano nee Marcos.  To say that the leadership of the EZLN has a deep understanding of capitalism and neoliberalism is aFullSizeRender 32n understatement.

Their struggle for the rights of indigenous people in Chiapas and around the world is, in my opinion, unmatched in terms of intellectual rigor, methodology, and sheer audacity.

Are the members of the EZLN ‘local aid and development workers’?  Having spoken and worked with them and seen how their community meetings function I have so say an unqualified ‘yes.’

Recently SupGaleano argued  “If there are those who think that everything is the same and that things can change through elections, marches, tweets, signatures on change.org or whatever the hell you call it — well no, things aren’t going to change like that.  We have to find new ways.  For what? Well that ‘for what’ is what we have to answer and we must once again draw the face of the [capitalist] Hydra, because it has changed.”  (found in Critical Thought in the Face of the Capitalist Hydra: I: Contributions by the Sixth Commission of the Ezln)

The Hydra
His point -that globally the nature of capitalism and neoliberalism is ever adapting and changing and, most importantly, has many ‘heads’ with which to harm humankind- is simple, compelling, and important.  Of course there are other forces at work, but downplaying economic determinism is, I feel, not an option.  Want to understand well, anything about modern geopolitics?  Follow the money

One example of this ever-adapting hydra is the increasing reach and impact of corporate social responsibility initiatives and partnerships.  The CARE-Cargil model is here to stay and will have deeper and more profound impacts in the coming years.

It is a point thimagesat many of us know but easily forget or ignore. All of us find it hard to communicate that understanding especially now is a political landscape dominated by narrow minded and ‘thin’ populism.  The reality is that too few people have the luxury of looking at the big picture because they are too busy existing day to day on a conveyor belt driven by a hydra that feeds on insecurity, avarice, and fear.

One aid worker put it this way,

“I think humanitarian aid work operates within a system that is built on inequality – we won’t see large scale change happen in the lives of people, in terms of long term development, until we start to challenge the structures and systems that result in this inequity in the first place. And the heart of those institutions is within North America and Europe – until we recognize how dependent we are on the oppression and marginalization of others for our own betterment and benefit (i.e. access to cheap disposable goods, foreign foods and fresh imports, temporary foreign workers to fill low-income job vacancies, etc…), humanitarian aid work is just another cog in this bullshit machinery.”

Our charge
The question for all of us is how do we deepen our understanding of the existing neoliberal structures impacting humanity?  Yet, even if we can ‘redraw the Hydra’, what then?   From the SupGaleano perspective the answer is to re-stock our quiver with newer and better informed arrows, the assumption underlying this tactic is that the hydra can be defeated.

But can it?

I gave my answer to that above.  What’s yours?


Feedback, trolling, snark or fan letters can be sent to me here.

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Local aid and development workers in Zambia: preliminary results of a survey

Local aid workers
Dealing with nomenclature when discussing the aid and development sector can be both a challenge and an opportunity, and this is clearly the case when talking about ‘local aid workers’ as I have done in my last several posts.  Certainly domestic (in this case within the United States) workers like Jennifer Foy and Marlene Myers fall within a very broad definition of ‘local aid worker’, but these women fall outside the more classic (stereotypical?) image of local aid workers that, for example, made the news recently in Afghanistan.

By some estimates, local aid and development workers outnumber expat aid workers by a ratio of as much as 10 to 1, with one US based aid and development NGO of which I am aware reporting only 5% of their international staff as expats.  Local workers are, in the most literal sense of the word, essential for the delivery of aid in much of the world, and the recent deaths of images6 local International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid workers in Afghanistan underline how dangerous their jobs can be.

Western centric methodology
Although it is an open question as to what the best methodology for hearing the voices of local aid and development workers might be, I am certain that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer.

The age-old tradeoff is between more in depth and time intensive ethnographically oriented approaches with inherently limited generalizability and the quicker, more comprehensive survey technique.  Within the survey technique there are wide array of tools going from the time intensive but data-rich door to door and/or face to face interviews all the way to the more technology dependent online survey.  The advantage of the former is rich data, the downside is that it is very time/human resource intensive and, since many ears can be listening during an interview, the respondents may compromise what they say.  The advantage of the online survey technique is ease and speed, but access to all respondents because of limited access to technology, translation complications, and security issues will inevitably into play.

Inherent in all of the approaches is the hoary ‘GIGO’ warning, namely, garbage in, garbage out:  ask a stupid question and you’ll get a stupid answer.  But what are the right questions in each specific setting?

One colleague I know has been doing ethnographic and extensive face to face interviews of local aid workers in Kenya, and this method allows for very rich data.  One massive hurdle for both face to face interviews and online surveys -any methodology for that matter- is language differences and the attendant translation issues.  I had that lesson presented to me very clearly when I worked to get Arabic, French and Spanish versions of the online survey the data from which is the basis for Aid Worker Voices. All three translators pointed out numerous phrases and words that just could not be translated and/or had embedded cultural assumptions.  Of note is that Caroline Abu-Sada and other researchers in In The Eyes of Others (click the link for the book in pdf: msf-in-the-eyes-of-others) talked about similar translation issues when doing their work for MSF.

But now to the preliminary results referred to in the title to this post….

A Zambian development worker since 2009
I have known and worked with Mr. Voster Tembo, a Zambian development worker, for many years.  We have worked on several projects, the most significant of which was the founding of the Zambian Development Support Foundation in 2013.  Yes, I know about the pitfalls of MONGO’s, but this one is different  (isn’t that what they all say?) and

screenshot-2017-02-14-09-01-39 intended to be scaleable. But details on that can wait for another post.

My most recent collaboration with Voster is an attempt to address one failing of the survey of aid and development workers that my colleague J (aka Evil Genius) and I launched nearly three years ago. That survey reached over 1ooo self-identified aid and development workers,  but only 5% identified as ‘local aid workers’ hence we heard and reported on a very skewed, likely Western centric set of voices.

Voster and I talked about these results and agreed that the voices of local workers needed to be heard. After discussion with some of his colleagues we constructed a short online survey intended to be an exploratory study that might lead us to both better questions and to finding efficient ways to gather data.  The best first step would have been to do extensive interviews of a number of development workers and learn from them which questions were relevant and seek their counsel as to how to get more voices gathered.  Given time and resource limitations we decided that an exploratory study seemed an acceptable  second choice.

Background regarding the survey
The population we intended to reach were Zambian ngo/aid workers who regularly interact with visiting mzungus (either individually or in groups), with the overall goal  to get 100+ responses within 30 days.  Our purpose was to understand how visiting mzungus are seen by those who work with them with the ultimate goal being to better facilitate and enhance inter and intra group communication, coordination and cooperation.  A secondary goal was to do preliminary work toward the establishment a useful typology of muzungu visitors, with descriptions of each category type that might lead to refinement of a typology and eventually provide data for analysis and explanation that would be useful in establishing enhanced interaction protocols for both muzungu groups and those who work with them.

Examples of settings where Zambians would interact regularly with outsiders include INGO based home building teams coming from primarily the US, western Europe and the UK, staff of international development NGO’s, USAID staff, Peace Corp volunteers, and so on.

After the short survey was constructed and made live online, we used social networking to get the word out about the survey.  For a variety of reasons the response has been anemic, with only 20 respondents.

Through our eyes: views of Zambian (and other African) aid and development workers
Given the small and markedly limited sample, the results are at best preliminary.  With that stated, here are some highlights.

screenshot-2017-02-14-09-10-56The responses to the first question (Q1) indicate a markedly positive attitude toward working with mzungus.  Q2 asked the respondent to expand on their answer and all 20 respondents offered some insights.

The positive comments were many, perhaps best presented in this one respondent’s words,

“I like working with Mzungus as there are more benefits attached to the working relationships: 1) cultural learning from each other in a global environment. 2) platform for sharing knowledge on best practices on the core business e.g housing delivery models. 3) Resource mobilisation- by this I mean they are able to link or bridget up opportunities for development between their country of origin and the country hosting them. The current scenario is they are from developed countries and the housing country is still developing. 4) They bring in innovations on issues bordering on socio- economic activities for improved living of the target groups.”

A few other positive comments were,

  • “Most of them show eagerness to learn about Zambia and how we do things and I get great satisfaction in talking about my country and the many strengths as well as weaknesses and challenges that we have.”
  • [They] show openness and most are willing to learn but also to learn about the countries where they are coming from is really fulfilling in working with them.
  • “When we work and eat together like a family that gives more pleasure.”

These next two comments are from respondents who indicated “I have no strong feelings either way about work with visiting mzungus”,

  • “I am neutral to anyone I work with, I am just careful working with strangers. Generally, whites are more exposed so I am always eager to learn from them, and to me they have been helpful.”
  • “I have no strong feelings either way because they come in different shades. Some of them come in as professionals who know what they ought to do while some come in as ‘apprenticees’ who are learning there work but behave like they know.”

And these next two speak to the a sore spot,

  • “I don’t really say I don’t like them, I can work with them but most of the time they think they are more superior than Africans.”
  • “There are some that make you feel inferior.”

screenshot-2017-02-15-10-42-05The remainder of the short survey asked questions continuing the focus on working with non-Zambians, several asking about which categories of mingus were harder to work with, males or females, older or younger.  These data indicated that those two variables were a wash, no real pattern differences could be identified.

After considering the cross-cultural cache of the phrase “white savior complex” we posed a question with that in mind.  Here are a few statements from respondents that extend these data and provide some suggestions.

  • “Whites who volunteer with NGO’s are different generally from those who come to Africa for commercial business. Those with NGO’s are more open but with a subjective perception of the continent, yet those in the business world, here for profit are objective and even corny.”
  • “The muzungu should take time to learn the local environment and then work. And there is no need to bring in a muzingu expat when there are indigenous people with the same skills and qualifications.”
  • “They should not come with pre-concieved minds and should know that blacks/Zambians have their own strengths that can add value to any project/intervention.”
  • “It is important to engage the locals in the planning and implementation of projects unlike just imposing. Most take funding of the project to be owners of the projects.”

A close reading of the above suggestions, I think, gives a local  Zambian voice to some of the discussions and debates I have seen throughout the blogosphere related to local aid workers.

Moving forward with this project?
Our exploratory online survey attempting to reach local aid and development workers in Zambia has been minimally effective.  I am just now off a Skype conversation with Voster and we agreed to continue exploring and critiquing not only the methodology but as well the many assumptions and intentions that underlie this research.  Our question choices were intended to be relevant and interesting, but we are not convinced that goal was reached.

We do remain convinced that these local Zambian aid and development worker voices need to be heard.

screenshot-2017-02-15-08-54-46

Village Health Workers at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed, India.

Post Script
My research on local aid workers began  decades ago in 1994 when I piloted a new technique for doing survey research. My study was on the self esteem of the Village Health Workers at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) in Jamkhed, India.  This research technique may still be of use in some instances; click here to read: the-likert-scale-goes-marathi and let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

 

Please contact me if you have any comments, questions or suggestions.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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The impact of the Trump Executive Order On Immigration: an interview with Jennifer Foy

[Note:  Read here my interview with Marlene Myers, NC State Refugee Coordinator. These posts are part of my continuing research on local aid workers.]


UPDATE:  The situation regarding the Executive Order On Immigration remains extraordinarily fluid on many fronts.  Wednesday World Vision issued a press release that was published as a full page ad in the Washington Post. The title, “Evangelical Leaders from All 50 States Urge President Trump to Reconsider Reduction in Refugee Resettlment” says it all.


The impact of the Trump Executive Order On Immigration:  an interview with aid worker Jennifer Foy

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One basic sociological truism is that everything is connected to everything else, and, increasingly, what happens in one part of the world has ripple effects around the globe. The bigger the stone, the more far reaching the ripples.  Impact meant for a contained target almost certainly has ramifications far beyond the prime intent.

And then came President Trump adding a whole new dimension of volatility.

Any social change engineered by politicians or activists alike has many consequences.  The manifest or intended purposes may seem straightforward (“make our nation safer”), but much more important perhaps are all of the unintended and/or indirect impacts, some positive and some very, very negative.  Executive Orders, especially those signed without proper vetting, are a case in point.  The many repercussions of the EOOM are being illuminated every day in the news, and none appear to be positive and provide material for future post.  The present task is to take a local, domestic look and to perhaps provide more context around the refugee situation in the United States.

A calm but passionate aid worker voice
Earlier this week I talked with Jennifer Foy, the Executive Director of the World Relief offices in High Point and Winston-Salem, NC.  Our conversation came right on the heels of the Trump Executive Order On Immigration (EOOM).

She and her staff watched the breaking news at 4:45 Friday afternoon and immediately began planning next steps.  Though rumored for days that this EO would come out, the reality that late afternoon was still jolting.

Later that evening Jennifer sent messages to both staff and clients that an information session would be held at their offices Saturday morning. At that meeting she and her staff did their best to explain the implications, outline positive steps people could take, and steps they should not take (e.g., travel outside the US).

On Wednesday (the morning of our meeting) she found on her desk a plate of food.  Here’s the story.fullsizeoutput_d7c9

“One of our client’s didn’t speak English very well, but she literally knew that this was going to hurt our office, so she brought in a plate of food at every desk at our office. So I have a nice plate of Afghan food to eat this afternoon at my desk.”

Gulzari is an Afghan woman, a single mom with children, and a recent refugee who does not speak English.  She does not have  a lot of money but found the resources to cook a meal for 24 people, individualize the plates with names and deliver them – using public transportation.  The gift of food did not mean she was giving from abundance, it likely cost her a meal or two, according to Jennifer.  Among the refugee families Jennifer knows there is a ethos of hospitality that is common to all, regardless of culture.

“The difference in what hospitality means, it is much more that just a clean house and a cup of coffee…it goes well beyond that in so many ways and we see that here in ways that most Americans have never experienced.”

This gesture is an indication of a universal empathy and response that transcends cultures. Jennifer points out that this is a characteristic response in the refugee community. They feel so deeply appreciative and they want to honor the gift of being accepted into a new home in any way they can.  This one example is not an exception, but rather just one among countless others to which Jennifer and her staff could point.

Understanding this fully one must keep in mind that the ‘refugee community’ is and is not a monolithic whole.  Yes, refugees all share a common experience once they come to the United States and are seen -and to an extent see themselves- bound together, but the fact is they come from dozens of different cultures and cultural traditions.  Generalizations made about ‘refugees’ no not deny their cultural and linguistic diversity but rather celebrates their common humanity, a sentiment aid workers around the world know very well.

No, neither Jennifer nor I are trying to sanitize or romanticize the refugee population; they are human and occasionally make human mistakes.  That said, both anecdotal and hard evidence indicates that, as a while, their crime rates are much lower, their level of community involvement much higher, and the high value and respect they place on their new homeland is amazing.  Read here my interview with Marlene Myers, NC State Refugee Coordinator for more examples.

Here is Jenn describing the gift of food.  It was not the only one her staff has received from clients in the last week.

“You are fracturing the foundation”
Doing a thorough social impact assessment means comprehensively examining the immediate impacts of, in this case, the EOOM, and certainly that is where most of the news stories are focusing:  people stuck in airports, protests, students and faculty not able to come back to (our leave) campus, and so on.  But beyond the now there is the near and not-so-near future, and that is where our conversation leads us.

In short, though the restrictions on immigrants and refugees are as we understand now limited to 120 days, the impacts of this 4 month hiatus will last far beyond those years.  Jennifer puts it this way,

“Nationally what we fear is that this can and will shut down a lot of small offices [handling refugee’s nationally], or offices that weren’t as financially well supported….  What’s going to happen is that all of these agencies are going to close…. this is 35 years of history of building this network…you are essentially fracturing the foundation of the refugee network.”

Jennifer seems confident that the longer term impact of the EOOM will yield a more robust system, a bit more able to anticipate and respond to existential challenges.  I hope she is right, though as a sociologist I know that once broken systems tend to struggle recovering. In the short term it appears certain that if aid organizations serving refugees have to close or severely cut staff there will be at minimum tension and uncertainty among this population.

The emotional toll and compartmentalization
As the executive director Jennifer knows that her staff and clients take cues from her behavior and general reactions, and that even in -or especially because of- the unique and confusing circumstances surrounding EOOM she must maintain an outwardly calm and assuring demeanor.  Her staff must be exactly the same way whenever they interact with clients, holding back more negative comments and emotions that would be counterproductive.

“I think most staff are asking the question everyday of how to balance the responsibility they have to help the people and serving [being mindful about] with their own emotions. I think they have not fully figured out how to juggle both of those opposing obligations. They can’t show panic, they can’t show fear because there are dozens of very vulnerable people who have had enough of that.”

In other words, the aid workers are required to compartmentalize their personal response from their professional response all week hile maintaining an aura of humanity, compassion and understanding.

When Jenn came in Monday morning she gave her usual round of hugs, but the toll was beginning to become real. Monday mornings there is regular a meeting among the managers. Jenn knew that if the EOOM was real, there would be impacts both on the staff and the clients.  She said, “I was sitting in a circle with 25 people, knowing that some may not be with us in coming weeks.”  

This very scene, one has to assume, is being repeated in similar offices throughout the US.

By pushing the task of carrying the conversation on to others Jenn was able to protect herself and compartmentalize in order to hold everything together for her team members. There were tears, but not then, not around the manager’s table meeting or in from of clients.

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Adam Clark, WR-Durham Photo Credit: Amelia Cassar Photography

To keep positive and strong she knew that for her and her staff members all they would have to do would be to spend time with the clients, walk into their houses as a reminder to keep going, and that’s enough.

Near the end of our interview Adam Clark, the Office Director from World Relief in Durham, joined us and we expanded the conversation to include discussion of the many volunteers and college interns both offices have.  Both Adam and Jennifer agreed that in the coming weeks non-paid staff will have to take more tasks.  Jennifer was optimistic about this and said, “They’re ready to pick up and ready to serve.”

I asked what kind of messaging were they encouraging them to pass on and what do you think they’re picking up?

 Adam offered,  “We see every member of our team as an ambassador to their own circles. Many team members have a foot in very different political worlds. They may face a lot of opposition at home, at church, and there are a lot of questions. We encourage them to listen, so they can engage in conversations, because we believe that we have more in common.”

Regarding the ongoing educational role of all the staff including interns he went on, “People who are reacting in a different way than they [those who would support the EOOM] are doing so because they have valid concerns. Whether those concerns are well informed is a different matter.”

Aid workers are a bridge between worlds and world views more so than perhaps any profession, and serving this function may not show up prominently in any job description, but remains critically important.

screenshot-2017-02-04-12-28-57

Photo from https://www.facebook.com/WorldReliefHighPoint/

Getting people woke, one by one
Earlier this week Jennifer spent a few hours at a local TV news station and after being on a small ‘expert’ panel about the impact of EOOM she and her counterparts answered phone calls from the public.  The vast majority were supportive of Trump’s EOOM and railed against ‘immigrants and refugees’ citing a variety of reasons.  One of the frustrations felt by Jenn and many of her staff is that they know from countless experiences that if most of these people would only have the opportunity to simply share a meal with a refugee family they would have their eyes and hearts opened.

One story is that of an older man, maybe late 50s or early 60s, who was well-known in the bar scene around the small town of High Point. A family of Syrian refugees was placed by Jennifer’s organization into the vacant house right next door to where he lived. His initial reactions were predictable and negative, but it now, one year later, the little Syrian children next-door run in and out of his house as if he were their uncle, the family share meals together, and his opinion about these Syrian refugees has been altered 180°.  They are no longer abstract threats but real people with faces, emotions, sharing with him the simple desire for a life of safety, dignity, and marked by the compassionate fellowship of close friends and family.

Where to from here?
This story continues to unfold, and as I write this word of a Seattle judge halting Trump’s immigration order is on my news feed.  As the situation alternately becomes more and less clear aid workers like Jennifer remain focused. She and her staff -and their countless counterparts across the United States-  read, respond and keep moving forward with their mission of serving refugees in the best way possible.

For comic relief we can watch as the European Union trolls Trump with a friendly competition to be “second”, but breaks like these seem a guilty pleasure when there are so many immediate needs.

Some bullet points to share
Finally, here are some facts that Jennifer and other staffers share as part of their ongoing social media push to educate:

• The EO refers to 9/11 three different times as a reason for new “extreme vetting” for the refugee program. ZERO of the 19 hijackers were refugees. 15 of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the list of suspended countries. 

• ZERO Americans have been killed in a terrorist attack by a refugee. About 3 million refugees have entered the US since 1980.

• Refugees are highly screened immigrants. Much more vetted than other visa carrying immigrants.

• The current vetting process for a refugee takes, on average, 1.5-2 years. 

• Syrian refugees are victims and are fleeing from real and incredibly dangerous persecution.

• The situation in Europe is COMPLETELY different than in the US. Refugees do not walk across (or swim to) our borders. To arrive in the US, refugees go through an organized, thorough, complex vetting process.

• Resettlement to another country is the LAST resort for these individuals. They are identified as refugees because they canNOT return to their home country.

• The United States was founded by a group of people fleeing religious persecution.

 

There will be edits and additions to this post, but in the meantime contact me if you have comments.  If you feel moved to help the refugee program in the United States directly read this and then donate.

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Aid workers are tired and concerned, but now cowed

Being an aid worker in the age of Trump
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The toll of dealing with an impending existential crisis
Today I had the pleasure of spending a couple precious hours with Jennifer Foy, the executive director of World Relief for the Winston-Salem/High Point offices in North Carolina. The job of her staff is to facilitate the processing and support of refugees coming into the state from placed like Cuba, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere.

It will take a while to put together my notes and do a follow up with her, so the full report of our discussion will come in several days.

We began the chat in her office commiserating about the news of the day, shared stories of how the last couple weeks were utterly exhausting and Trump-news  dominated.  She observed that she and her staff were having a hard time focusing and were spending more time on social media and news outlets, waiting for the next news bomb to drop.

Words of wisdom
My next post will detail the many topics Jennifer and covered, but more immediately I wanted to share some very wise thoughts from my friend and colleague.  Evil Genius put this post on Facebook last night, and I believe that it is good advice.  He counters the facist Nequiquam est refragatere with this:

12115870_989174907808146_5495414602259377233_n
Illegitimi non carborundum*
 
To my aid worker colleagues around the world. Especially, in some ways those of you who are American, like I am, or maybe British; but at the same time not at all to exclude anyone. Whether you’re out on the front lines in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, or innumerable other places where connectivity is sketchy and lattes are made with Nescafe; whether you’re buried in a maze of cubicles in one of the humanitarian capitals; in a UN agency or governmental donor like USAID or BPRM, this is for you:
 
Hang. In. There.
 
If you feel like the floor is shaking, you can’t concentrate, can’t tear yourself away from the horrific freakshow that is the first 100 days, take a mental health day. Or five. Or ten. Because this is not normal. 
 
Take a week of sick leave (the world won’t end). Have the flu. Have your period. Have a toothache. Cash in some comp days. Call in a few favors. Threaten to post those R&R pictures on Facebook, if you have to.
 
Take a week. Hell, take two if you can. Because we’re in for the long haul. We won’t survive if we all flame out in the first few days. 
 
The activists in America are all, “DON’T NORMALIZE THIS!!”, and I agree. The current state of affairs is neither screenshot-2017-01-26-22-41-11normal nor okay. But we’ve seen this kind of thing go down before, in lots of places. A despotic leader takes control and things turn to shit in short order. We have to normalize it at the individual level. We have to get to the point that we can get through the day without our amygdalae popping like little balloons every time The Guardian or NPR or Jezebel posts another article. No, this is not normal, and things will almost certainly get worse before they get better. But we do have to get through it.
 
Let’s not self-aggrandize, but at the same time let’s not understate the situation either: the world needs us to keep doing what we’re doing. Which we can’t do if we’re unable to roll out of bed in the morning. 
 
Take the time. Take the meds. Get the counseling. Drink the extra beer. Do what you have to do to get over the emotional hump of accepting this new (NOT NORMAL) reality, because it’s going to be a long, bumpy ride. 
 
And while we’re at it, let’s hug each other. If your context approves, hug your local colleagues, too. Or at least buy them chocolate, or whatever. This is do-able. We can get through it, but it will have to be together. 
 
Illegitimus non carborundum

[*I added the image and will expand on its relevance in a future post. It does not appear in the Facebook post.]
 Thanks for the solid, EG.
 More to come soon.  Contact me if you are an aid worker -local or otherwise- and would like your voice heard.
Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Which is worse?

unknownWhich is worse? (You have to choose…)
Some months ago my friend, colleague and frustrated social scientist Evil Genius (otherwise know as J) put out through social media a link to a ten item survey.  The ‘hook’ used in this survey is the fun involved in encouraging aid workers to express exactly which is worse when posed with two similar options, both of which are annoying, contentious or otherwise frequent points of controversy within the sector. Here’s the survey (still open).

No, the idea having fun making binary choices is not new.  There are some pretty, uh,  juvenile web sites devoted to just this including one that allows you to make a choice and then instantly see the results and another that uses your choices to act as personality test.

All snarky comment aside, the parlor game of being asked to choose the ‘lesser of two evils’ is of some value and, in this case, may allow us to know aid and development workers a bit better by hearing their voices -and choices- yet again.

Here is how the survey was introduced:

Which is worse? (You have to choose…)

Aid workers love to complain. It’s just how we roll. But now it’s time to make some hard choices.
For each of the following 9 pairs you must choose which is worse. And by “worse”, I don’t mean “which annoys you more?” (that poll will come later). I do mean, of the two things mentioned, which one represents the most actual harm to those we claim we want to help. In some cases “harm” may be direct (the thing actually hurts people), while in others it may be indirect (the thing hinders or obstructs help to people).
Select the one that is worse than the other. No skipping.

 

Interesting -maybe some telling?-  results
The nine pairs included some clarifying information, making the choices seem clearer.  A total of 148 responses were completed, and a few offered some additional thoughts. There appears to be no logic or intention thereof regarding the order in which the pairs were placed, though there are a couple themes.

screenshot-2017-01-04-14-26-161. Voluntourism or celebrity activism?
By a big margin 76% to 24% people felt that volunteerism was worse.  I can hazard a guess that this result is a reflection of the fact that there is far more impact of voluntourism overall.

2. TOMS or Raising Malawi?
The TOMS shoes versus Raising Malawi response was similarly skewed, with TOMS taking the bigger beating, 68% -32%.  Amy Costello, founder of Tiny Spark, perhaps explains this result here, though if Raising Malawi had gotten the same level of coverage the results may have been different.  Madona is trying her best to save the day, though.  Stay tuned.

3. Low intern salaries or inadequate staff care?
This one was clarified when the full choices were presented.  The respondent was asked to choose between “The fact that UN interns get paid next to nothing.” and “The fact that most INGOs do not cover staff care for employees who suffer traumatic stress (being abducted, being assaulted, etc.) in the line of duty?”  The results on this question were more skewed than any other with “The fact that most INGOs do not cover staff care for employees who suffer traumatic stress (being abducted, being assaulted, etc.) in the line of duty?” garnering 88% of the votes.  This issue has been discussed in the blogosphere a good bit and one would hope HR is listening.  There do seem to be policy changes along these lines, happily.

4. Americans or Chinese?
This one gets specific and infers a certain depth and breadth of knowledge for the respondent. The more detailed choices were “American evangelical anti-LGBT lobbying in Uganda.” or “Chinese mineral extraction in the Congo.” By a 63% to 37% spread aid workers thought the anti-LGBT lobbying was worse.  This result is no surprise, at least to me given my previous research  on LGBTQI+  issues.

5. Poverty porn or charity muggers?
This one was pretty straightforward the the results were demonstrative with ‘poverty porn‘ as the frequent response by an almost 4 to 1 ratio (81% -19%).  This article about ‘chuggers’ allows you to vote, so have at it.

screenshot-2017-01-04-14-26-33

6. Overhead or being led by industry non-experts?
Yes, this one needed more detailed choices. Which is worse, “The fact that major industry watchdogs (e.g. Charity Navigator) and the media (e.g. AlertNet) still flog “overhead” as a metric of aid effectiveness.” or “The fact that most major charities place industry non-insiders in positions of executive leadership?” Of the nine pairs, this choice seems too most “apples to oranges”, but both deal with the overall frustration with bureaucratic politics and policies.  Perhaps appropriately this one has the closest results at 48% to 52%, respectively.

7.  Metrics or innovation?
Or, in a shade more detail, “Obsession with metrics” or “Obsession with innovation.”  I find the result interesting with “Obsession with innovation.” winning, as it were, with 60%.  As I reflect in the many narrative responses presented and commented upon in our original research (now in book form), this seems to make sense.  Collectively aid workers have “been there, done that” and know that the (typically top down) obsession with the “next big thing” is misguided.

8.  Racism or sexism?
As a sociologist, this one is fascinating and brings up so many issues.  The choices were “Widespread institutional racism within the aid industry.” or “Widespread institutional sexism with the aid industry.”  The results were near even, with racism being seen as causing slightly more harm (55% to 45%).  Both are significant, chronic issues that must be addressed more aggressively on many levels both within and outside the sector, of course.  In the comments one respondent noted that, “The racism vs sexism question was HARD.”  Yeah, exactly.

We asked nearly the same question in our original survey, focusing rather on how these social forces impacted the aid workers themselves.  Look here (gender) and here (race) for these results.

images9.  Land Cruisers or big team houses?
Or, more specifically, “White land Cruisers” or “big team houses.”  Yeah, tight race here but the land cruisers won (60%-40%).  Why?  Land cruisers, well, cruise; they go places and are seen by more people, spreading the brand far and wide and, with it, the perception of aid workers as monolithic, powerful and flush in resources.  Not an image that many aid workers feel good about perpetuating, methinks.

 

Conclusions?
Many people appreciate being asked these kinds of questions because they do serve the function of clarifying and prioritizing issues, so kudos to J for presenting this opportunity.  Do we now know anything we didn’t before this survey was responded to and the results presented?  Not a whole lot.

But.

But that’s how social science works:  we add one tiny, seemingly mundane bit of insight after another until voilà! we know now more than we did before.  And, more importantly, we have heard many voices speak.

You’re welcome.

As always, contact me if you have any comments or questions.  Reach Evil Genius through his website if you’d like to get all snarky about the survey or go here for links to all his mini-polls.

Want to learn a whole lot more about what aid workers think?  Buy the book:  Aid Worker Voices.

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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An embrace

Embracing a development worker
On this New Years Day I got up early before the family. After making my coffee I immediately settled into reading a book recommended by my wife and 12 year old daughter, a book that came as a Christmas present just a week ago.

fullsizerenderMy wife is an amazing mother and constantly challenges our children to read and explore the world, and the choice of Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water was made easy because it had been both on the New York Times best seller list and honored by the Newberry Award committee.

The book tells two stories that connect for the reader as they read the final pages. One story is of a young girl -just as countless other young girls around the world- who grew up taking long walks to fetch water, the other about a “Lost Boy” who comes of age in refugee camps and ultimately gets official refugee status, comes to the United States, and starts a new life in upstate New York.

The story comes full circle when the young boy -now an accomplished and educated young man- starts his own ngo Water for South Sudan and is responsible for bringing a bore-hole well to the village of the young girl.

Yeah, I know the opinion many aid workers have about MONGO’s (MyOwnNGO) and general ‘do-goodery’, but the story of Salva Dut, an aid and development worker by my measure, seems positive and appropriate as we begin a new year.  I say this despite a chronically deteriorating situation in South Sudan, and one does wonder how many of his wells will survive.  Not unlike many development efforts, Dut’s work has a Sisphian quality, indeed.

In my last post I described a discussion with the North Carolina State Refugee Coordinator.inside  One story she told was of four young single men from Sudan who had been placed together here in North Carolina.  Now, having just read A Long Walk for Water, I know a bit more clearly the back story likely behind their lives.  I will have to follow up with the NC State Refugee Coordinator Marlene Myers and see if she can recall if these young men were also part of the “lost boys” chapter in refugee history.

A net positive?
We all strive to move the needle incrementally in a positive direction. Salva Dut is doing it in his way, and with this post, in this moment at the beginning of a new year, I chose to let myself be inspired by his strength and feel good about my twelve year old learning about worlds far removed -but at the same time intersecting- from her’s.

An embrace.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Interview with ‘local aid worker’ Marlene Myers

Interview with Marlene Myers, North Carolina State Refugee Coordinator

Refugees in North Carolina give back
Amid a global rise in zenophobia, recent news stories from the US indicate increased resistance to accepting migrants and refugees, especially in the Southeast.

Perpetuation of stereotypes and misinformation fuels much of this sentiment.  What most people don’t know -some inside but mostly outside the aid sector, especially here in the United States- is that refugees almost immediately give back both internationally and in their local communities.  Most become tax paying, fully functional contributors to their new home communities in an astoundingly short number of months, giving back in large measure.

Refugees overcome seemingly endless obstacles to establish a meaningful new life in their host nations and, typically, are amazingly resilient and resourceful people who, arguably, represent the best of humanity.

Listen here for Marlene’s voice describing refugee contributions.

One way they give back is by sending money back to their country of origin.  According to various sources total remittances from relocated refugees and immigrants are now well over US$500 billion per year, and is now more than three times larger than total global aid budgets.

This recent article about remittances to Somalia gives some great detail.  Marlene pointed out that nearly 100% of refugees begin making remittances back to their home nation, oftentimes at great personal sacrifice.

Local aid workers, indeed.

marlene

Now for some background
I am working on documentary film project with my Elon University colleague Dr. Ahmed Fadaam on the topic of how refugees adjust to life in North Carolina.

Last week we met with Marlene Myers who has worked for the last 25 years as the State Refugee Coordinator for North Carolina.  She is employed by the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services and works with the United States Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.  Her job is to oversee the placement of refugees in locations around North Carolina.

In fiscal year 2017 she will help direct the placement of 3,845 refugees through 13 affiliate organizations around the state under the auspices of the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program.  These refugees come from 40 different countries around the globe, nearly all of whom would have had contact with aid workers as part of their journey.

Dr. Fadaam with Marlene Myers.

Dr. Fadaam with Marlene Myers.

As part of her job Marlene vets and meets regularly with senior staff members for global aid organizations such as World Relief, Church World Services, Episcopal Migration Ministries and others.

Most of these organizations rotate aid workers deployed outside the US back to duty stations all over the US where refugees are being resettled. One example is the World Relief office in High Point, North Carolina.

We talked about many topics, and Dr. Fadaam and I learned a great deal.  By my definition Marlene is an aid worker. Her voice needs to be among those to which we listen closely.

History lesson
The US war in Vietnam (refereed to as the “American War” by the Vietnamese) had many legacies.  Wars are like that, changing history and all. One positive impact of this war, in my humble opinion, was the establishment in 1980 of the Bureau of Refugee Programs, the name of which changed in 1993 to its currently title, the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), the initial purpose of which was to organize the intake of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laosian social casualties of that prolonged conflict.

chart

This chart shows the final refugee placement numbers for North Carolina for FY 2017.

In the early years the refugees processed by the PRM were from from a small number of nations, primarily in Southeast Asia.  Over the next two decades the changes in the nationalities of those processed by the PRM have mirrored global conflicts.  In the last five years both the numbers processed and the range of nationalities have increased significantly, and in 2016 there are more than 40 different nationalities represented.  In FY 2016 the United Stated welcomed 84,995 refugees to 49 of our states, with the most welcomed by California, Florida, Texas, and New York.  In FY 2015 refugees represented only about 10% of all immigrants to the United States.  The US takes in more refugees per year than any other nation, though when looked at per capita the US lags far behind most nations.  Other nations accepting fewer refugees have programs that support these individuals and families for a long period time where the US allow for minimal support and expects the refugees to be mostly self sufficient in just over three months.

Though there are domestic vetting  processes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does the all the major vetting (security, health, etc.) and makes country by country allocations and it is the job of the US PRM to place the yearly allocation.

North Carolina, as a state having many military bases that were the training grounds for  soldiers who fought in Vietnam, has always had a welcoming tradition perhaps because so many had connections with the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  North Carolina in fact has the second highest population of Montagnards outside of Vietnam.

Marlene Myers
Marlene is a dedicated  civil servant who has devoted her career to assisting refugees from all over the world and often tells people that she “…has the best job in North Carolina.”  She is the Past-President and current Vice-President of the national organization of State Refugee Coordinators, and has networked extensively both with her domestic counterparts and with those in other nations.  She is open, passionate, tireless and unabashedly devoted to her life of service.  The stories she told of specific situations and refugees spoke volumes as to her humanitarian commitment. I feel honored to have met and learned from her.

At the national level, the  State Coordinators of Refugee Resettlement (SCORR) meets face to face yearly and has monthly virtual meetings via email and phone conferences, etc.  SCORR is broken down into committees working on various issues.

Marlene also frequently mets with her international counterparts, most typically as a host to international teams looking at how North Carolina manages their refugee resettlements.

Challenges
During our interview she outlined many challenges.  Here are just a few.

  • An increasing number are “urban refugees” who have taken temporary refuge in places like Jordan and Lebanon.  Those escaping conflict situations carry psychological burdens.
  • In the last ten years there are more people from many more countries.  This growth has not been matched by more Congressional funding, meaning far less resources for more people.
  • Getting translators for the many languages and dialects is difficult, as is dealing with many cultural and religious differences.
  • Singles typically get placed together so as to ease financial burden.  Even when they are from the same country they frequently have language difficulties.  Marlene tells of four Sudanese men who were placed together and told her they could only communicate after they all learned English because they all four had very different dialects.
  • Many come from ‘high functioning’ nations like Syria or Iraq where they are likely to have skill sets that can be useful when finding employment and in general when navigating a new life in a foreign nation.
  • The down side of coming to the US with high qualifications is that in a majority of cases employment options tend to be limited to very low level positions.
  • On the other end of the spectrum are some coming from refugee camps where they have lived, in some cases, for nearly two decades (think Dadaab in Kenya).  These refugees face tremendous challenges dealing with the most basic day to day activities.
  • Long term follow through is difficult.  Long term assessment of the adaptation of refugees is done mostly by academics doing, though she also meets with the various local ethnic social/religious groups and do ad hoc focus groups and learn what challenges they face.

img_3983-jpgThe humanitarian imperative
One final question I asked Marlene was how she would describe the value of what she does.  Why does the United States take in refugees and why does she do her job facilitating this process?

She said she gets that question frequently when she talks with outsiders about what she does.  She asks them what they would do if they were in the same situation as these refugees, ‘how would you cope?’ she asks.  She basically responds with one articulation of the humanitarian imperative, that we need to respond to others as we would want them to respond to us were we to be in that same plight.

Grounded thoughts from a local aid worker dedicated to serving.


Drop me a message if you have questions or thoughts you’d like to share.


 

 

 

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying about development issues for nearly two decades. He is currently working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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