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A Geneva Experience from Durham

By Peter Adeyeye

The Journey

Childhood events sparked my interest in development. I grew up in a loving Christian home where I watched my parents pray with people who fell ill and support both neighbors and strangers through poverty. At age 8, a crisis erupted between my community and a neighboring one, known as the Ife Modakeke crisis in southwestern Nigeria. It was a sad tale and my first time experiencing the dark side of humans. From the constant gunshots that kept us awake to witnessing properties go up in flames, the trauma and loss of the war lingered for years, haunting and hunting both communities. I remember my mom telling me once that if the war got within 3km of where we were, we would have to escape. I asked her, “Mom, to where?” She said she didn’t know but we’d have to run. That was my first time thinking of displacement. This sense of vulnerability has fueled my personal mission not just to help provide cover to those who are needlessly exposed to harm, but to empower them.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in Demography and Social Statistics at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, which gave me a foundation in population and development. After graduation, I began my career in development first working as a Research Associate at the Center for Public Policy Alternatives, a public policy think tank in Lagos providing innovative policy solutions to Africa’s development challenges. I later co-founded Boundless Hands Africa (BHA), a non-profit that serves as an accessible resource for women and girls experiencing Gender-based Violence (GBV). As the Program Manager of BHA, I designed and led the implementation of projects that address root causes of GBV. In late 2017, as a consultant leading the final evaluation of a humanitarian response program in northeastern Nigeria by Christian Aid, I saw vulnerability within what’s called a “fragile context,” with the communities still under constant attacks of the Boko Haram insurgents. I sought opportunities to learn about the humanitarian field and in 2019, I was very fortunate to be selected for the Rotary Peace Fellowship, allowing me to pursue a Master of International Development Policy at Duke University with a concentration in Peace and Conflict.

Working from the background: Designing programs and implementing projects to empower women and girls. July, 2019, my last weekend in Nigeria.

In the fall of 2019, as part of our Rotary requirement, I took a class on Introduction to Peace and Conflict with Professor Rosemary Fernholz. For our “Peace Lab Project,” classmates Chimwemwe, Romina, and I conducted a research project called, “From Despair to Hope: Exploring the Fragility of Transitional Justice in the US Resettlement Program in North Carolina.” We used a storytelling approach by interviewing representatives of a refugee resettlement agency to better understand the experiences of women and youth from the Democratic Republic of Congo now living in the US. Among several drivers of their vulnerability are psychosocial trauma and adverse mental health impacts, with over 90% of the women having survived Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV).

Time, linguistic, and logistical constraints prevented us from interviewing the women and youth directly, but we learned about some key barriers to integration and inclusion, and the kind of supports a nation receiving refugees can implement. For example, it is challenging for non-native English speakers to acquire English: finding an expert that speaks their languages becomes a major challenge for many resettlement agencies. Yet, years of conflicts and transitioning often creates a huge gap in their employability. This coupled with subtle discrimination associated with their minority identities places many at risk of low socioeconomic status. Among other recommendations, we proposed the need for cultural awareness among institutions that serve refugees as well the need to offer comprehensive mental health programs for women.

Chimwemwe (L), Romina (R), and I (C) just before our Peace Lab presentation in November, 2019.

The Geneva Experience

Gaining professional experience in the headquarters of a United Nations organization is a dream of perhaps almost all early career development professionals. While I understand that the thrust of the work is on the field—having worked in grassroots programming for about 7 years myself—I really wanted an HQ summer internship. I had an idealized vision of working in the day, networking in the evening, and touring Europe over the weekends. It was going to be the best summer ever. I was extremely pleased when I got accepted to the Duke University Geneva Program and the internship offer with the Division Support Unit of the Transition and Recovery Division (TRD) of the UN-related organization the International Organization for Migration (IOM). But my excitement gave way to concern as the reality of COVID set in. Of course, I was grateful the Division decided to move forward with a remote internship. Still, I had many unanswered questions and reservations. For one, how do you build trust in remote work conditions?

A Supportive Supervisor

I got a great welcome to the team. My supervisor gave me an overview of the division and the bigger picture of IOM as an organization working across the breadth of migration and human mobility, including populations of concern such as migrants and displacement-affected groups. She walked me through the main roles of TRD’s four units: Resilience and Recovery Unit, Transitional and Restitutive Justice Unit, Peacebuilding Unit, and the Division Support Unit where I was working. My role was to lend support across the Division in knowledge management for TRD’s global portfolio.

My supervisor arranged that I meet every member of the team within my first two weeks of internship. Through these conversations, I learned more about the units and the desired skillset at the HQ level. She gave me a list of similar organizations and think tanks working in the migration and transition and recovery spaces and suggested subscribing to their newsletters to learn more. She has since then been supportive, clarifying terminology and the legal implications of categories of mobile populations, for example, differences between a refugee, an internally displaced person (IDP), and populations with similar vulnerabilities and needs. She also encouraged me to join related webinars, after which I wrote and shared summary reports to inform the division of new trends, discussions, and opportunities.

Major Tasks

My internship role within the Division Support Unit required providing support in administration, logistics, communications, and knowledge management. One of my first assignments was to work with the Resilience and Recovery Unit in designing and disseminating a survey to share progress on IOM’s disaster risk reduction programming for the 2019 year using the indicators of the joint UN Results Framework for DRR. I also updated the Division’s info sheets under its thematic areas of expertise using Microsoft Publisher as well as online map design tools.

I assisted in consolidating the Division’s project information from three internal databases into the Department of Operations Online Project System. Here, I reviewed various types of project documents and moved them to a central database for easy access and analysis by staff across IOM. The process was challenging, as it required reading several documents some of which were not in English; and I learned about IOM’s program designs across various themes all over the world. I also completed background research and a proposed outline for the Division’s fundraising strategy.

One of the workshops I participated in during my internship.

Final thoughts

When Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center decided to organize resilience training for us earlier in the year, none of us could have imagined how challenging the journey was going to be. Perhaps, this has been one of the most challenging periods of my life, having lost a dear friend in Nigeria in February and experiencing the new realities of COVID-19 and the turn of events. Living in a foreign country, self-isolating at home, having close friends and family contracting COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and the reality of my vulnerability as a Black person in the USA, and the uncertainties in the coming period have all tested my resilience. While like others, the AFE was not as glamorous as anticipated, I am still extremely thankful to have interned at a dream organization.

Maintaining a smile through it all. So much to be grateful for.


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