Humanitarian principles and intersectionality

Posted on: November 2, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

All human lives have equal worth Humanitarian principles, however broadly defined, begin with the assertion that all human lives have equal worth. Given that premise, our challenge is to understand the social forces which are a threat to that assumption and frequently lead to humanitarian crises. In previous posts (see here and here) I discuss how the process of ‘othering’ is universal, and throughout history has inexorably lead to the entrenchment and ossification of many ‘privileging forces’ that continue to have massive impact on all global cultures and, necessarily, impact the functioning of the humanitarian ecosystem. I argue that fighting each of these privileging forces individually may seem both necessary and logical, but that to be most effective we must, metaphorically, fight the body of the Hydra, i.e., the process of othering itself. A more just world will be achieved when we acknowledge and honor our differences and simultaneously counter…

Read More

Privileging forces

Posted on: October 23, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

Privileging forces   Background Earlier this month I was honored to be among the 200+ gathered in Berlin for the 32nd annual meeting of the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP). Established in 1997, ALNAP is an international sector wide humanitarian network made up of representatives from various related humanitarian organizations and experts who do research in this area. I served as one of the facilitators in a ‘jigsaw” exercise organized to help the participants link the conference theme of ‘relevance’ to the enduring historical patterns and norms related to patriarchy, race and privilege, colonialism and paternalism, heteronormativity and cisgendernormativity, and classism/ class privilege. Privileging forces My part was to briefly introduce and frame the topics for the breakout sessions related to these five ‘privileging forces’.  In the days before the conference I posted a (long) blog post where I discuss relevance and make the observation that each of these…

Read More

The relevance question

Posted on: October 9, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

Warning:  This is a long read at 3900 words and with numerous hyperlinks.   “It seems obvious that relevance should be a basic test of humanitarian assistance. If people don’t receive what they really need in a crisis, something is going wrong.”  —Sophia Swithern, Background paper for #alnap32   The relevance question Thoughts on being a more ‘relevant’ as a humanitarian worker Being a humanitarian worker frequently involves navigating between many cultures all while responding to the needs of people experiencing some form of extreme crisis. It is tough work, in part because dealing with ‘other’ people demands intellectual and emotional effort focused on the critical goal of maintaining relevance. Critical questions related to relevance include: Are my actions appropriate, ethical, and addressing the real needs of the affected communities? Are the actions of my organization appropriate, ethical, and addressing the real needs of the affected communities? Are the actions of the…

Read More

Open letter to my elected officials regarding Myanmar

Posted on: September 17, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

Updated 9-25-19 I have added three parts to this post.  First are some relevant links and then I comment on the overall situation. Relevant links (provided by The International Campaign for the Rohingya), especially for those in the US: How Universities Can Join the Movement to End Genocide HR 3190 Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2019 “Engel Presses for Accountability for Burmese Military Crimes Against the Rohingya”, House Foreign Affairs Committee, July 29, 2019 Cardin Says Designating Burmese Military Leaders As Human Rights Violators Must Be Followed Up with Stronger Actions,” July 17, 2019 “UN mission urges cutting off financial ties with Myanmar army,” Al Jazeera, May 14, 2019 Museum Finds Compelling Evidence Genocide was Committed Against Rohingya, Warns of Continued Threat,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, December 3, 2018 Documenting Atrocity Crimes Committed Against the Rohingya on Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), December…

Read More

Bringing sandwiches to the gates of Auschwitz

Posted on: September 7, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

“The humanitarian imperative for me, I don’t want to use a cliché, but it’s really simple in my head: you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. That’s it.” -30 something female humanitarian Bringing sandwiches to the gates of Auschwitz Brooding about the humanitarian imperative I recently re-read Samantha Power’s book Chasing the Flame, again drinking in every word as she chronicles in deep and sensitive detail the life, and death, of UN humanitarian diplomat Sergio Vierira de Mello. The complete title of Power’s book is “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.” Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Likely because of my recent research on humanitarian workers, and, in the last several months, into the lives of ‘refugee humanitarians‘, Rohingya women and men living in Cox’s Bazar, I was struck by a phrase Power’s used, a quote from a long-ago published NY Times…

Read More

#RohingyaGenocideDay

Posted on: August 23, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Refugee humanitarians

Updated 25 August   “I would like to be part of an effort to promote unity and peace across the world. I feel that people often see the worst in each other and changing this outlook might help resolve conflicts.” –Khing Maung Soe, refugee humanitarian   “I want to send messages to my people and to the world through my poems. My poems are the real voice of Rohingya women that need to be heard. They too deserve equality.”  –Shahida, Rohingya refugee   “In contrast to those who suggest that we act as soon as the whistle blows, I suggest that, even before the whistle blows, we ceaselessly try to know the world in which we live — and act. Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant.” -Mahmood Mamdani in Saviors and Survivors   Too many calls for our…

Read More

Ro Anamul Hasan, Rohingya poet

Posted on: August 23, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Refugee humanitarians

25 August 2017 “The day I can never forget, even in the hereafter.” –Ro Anamul Hasan Ro Anamul Hasan, Rohingya poet Harsh memories On this #RohingyaGenocideDay, I have been asked to share the voice of yet another Rohingya refugee humanitarian and poet. You can read about other Rohingya poets here. Below you can experience two of Anamul Hasan’s poems, and, scrolling down, you can hear his voice as he explains why he writes. Like the other young men and women I have profiled, Anamul Hasan is a ‘refugee humanitarian’, and has worked with MSF as an interpreter, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) doing field visits and data entry for IOM. These international humanitarian organizations are doing a good job, he tells me, though it can never be enough. Like many of his friends, he struggles to make meaning of his life and uses poetry to remember and to lay bare his memories and…

Read More

Volunteer Rohingya workers = ‘refugee humanitarians’?

Posted on: August 18, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Refugee humanitarians

“They are absolutely humanitarians, we couldn’t do anything without them. I am thrilled you are using that term. Using the term ‘humanitarians’ is not only empowering but essential to their sense of identify, resilience and self-reliance. With all the trauma they have experienced in the past, the ongoing protection concerns in the present, and their lack of durable solutions or ability to plan for the future, this is vital in their protracted displacement.” -Emily Reid, DRC Honoring volunteer and CFW Rohingya workers as ‘refugee humanitarians’ Humanitarians There are over 500,000 women and men responding to humanitarian crises around the world. Since 2008, each August 19th humanitarians around the globe observe World Humanitarian Day. The theme for this year’s World Humanitarian Day is #WomenHumanitarians, and stories highlighting the heroic efforts of female humanitarians can be found on the UN web site. But who are these ‘humanitarians’ being honored? Certainly they include women…

Read More

Many voices needing to be heard

Posted on: August 6, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Refugee humanitarians

“I would like to be part of an effort to promote unity and peace across the world. I feel that people often see the worst in each other and changing this outlook might help resolve conflicts.” –Khing Maung Soe, refugee humanitarian “Thus, the ultimate choice for a man, inasmuch as he is driven to transcend himself, is to create or to destroy, to love or to hate.” ― Erich Fromm, The Sane Society Many voices wanting to be heard In the last two months it has been my great pleasure and honor to meet (via WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime Messenger, etc.) many Rohingya refugees that now call Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh their (hopefully temporary) home. There are many poets in the camps, both men and women, and even writing groups that meet regularly. It is safe to say there are many hundreds of Rohingya poets who have collectively written thousands of…

Read More

What is in a name? Introducing ‘Ro Pacifist’

Posted on: July 24, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Refugee humanitarians

  “Nothing except writing poems can reduce my stress and sadness”. –Ro Pacifist   Refugee/humanitarian poets The are many poets among the Rohingya refugees ‘temporarily’ living in Cox’s Bazar, Banglasdesh, and the number is growing, especially among the young. Most use pen names, largely doing so as a protection against possible persecution were they to be identified by the Myanmar government which would have power over them in the increasingly unlikely event they were repatriated. That said, there is safety in numbers, and the fact there are more and more Rohingya poets every day publishing on Facebook and elsewhere makes the chance that any one person is singled out less likely. There is very little in their poems of which the world has not already been made painfully aware; the atrocities against the Rohingya are well documented. These poets sometimes gather in writing groups within the refugee camps, supporting each…

Read More
Next