Spring 2018 Newsletter

Fall 2017 Newsletter

Gada Roba – AFE Blog – Wilder Foundation, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Gada Roba, AFE Blog- Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) Wilder Foundation


My AFE, with the educational initiative Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, or SPPN, shed light on the many challenges faced by urban citizens in America. It also gave me hope—with communities in the neighborhood collaboratively working with anchoring institutions, it is possible to fight generational poverty through education. This summer, it was an honor to be a part of the committed team of SPPN researchers, program coordinators, staff members, parents, and the partner agencies I had the privilege of working with.

SPPN Initiative is based at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a non-profit social services and research organization. SPPN partners with four schools in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to bring much needed programs and services in order to ensure positive educational outcomes for generations of elementary school children throughout the year. During the summer, SPPN runs educational, recreational, and social activities. This summer, I have had the good fortune of working closely with the director and researcher Muneer Karcher-Ramos by assisting him with literature reviews of different perspectives on the roles of schools in driving neighborhood change.

Working with the director on the literature review gave me a deeper knowledge of poverty in America, and the complicated challenges to address it. I was exposed to critical race theory looking at the relationship between schools and property; economic development and the role of schools as anchor institutions; conventional school financing “per pupil” funding formula; community schools as neighborhood resource hubs; neoliberalism view of school as a tool to produce workers; and finally, the importance of schools as the cultural hubs, serving as a site for cultural knowledge production and transmission. I now look at schools through a different perspective as the means of addressing poverty.

In addition to weekly meetings with the director, I also had the opportunity to help with The Freedom Friday School at Maxfield Elementary School. The Freedom School is an all-day program designed to prevent learning loss during the summer with activities such as reading, academics, cultural activities, and nutrition. I coordinated my role with MK, the program manager, and Ebony, the program assistant as needed. I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with the students: I accompanied them to sporting events, academic and social activities, and field trips once or twice a week. Some of my favorite trips include visits to the Minnesota Science Museum, Como Regional Park Pool, and Jimmy Lee Recreation Center. I also helped at the Rondo Day Parade, the Rice Street Festival, and the Wilder Foundation Block Party.


Top: Me, Ebony, Muneer & Jr.              Bottom: Me & Mr. Melvin Carter, who helped create SPPN


What I got out of my AFE with SPPN

During my time in the Humphrey Policy Fellow Program from 2012-2013, I worked on a project entitled Collaboration, Community Engagement, and the Achievement Gap. I was introduced to the “Collective Impact” model, by John Kania and Mark Kramer, that can be used to address social problems. This model states that large-scale social change comes from collaboration rather than silo intervention. That is to say, more progress can be made on many social problems if “nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.”

This summer, I experienced first-hand how SPPN fulfills the collective impact model. SPPN mobilizes all stakeholders—the neighborhood, family, schools, service-providing agencies, and philanthropic community—around the same goal. Through my interaction with SPPN staff, partner agencies, students, and parents, I learned that high-level, collaborative, and collective efforts truly do provide a strong sense of community to change the status quo. High levels of community member participation in the process of change will undoubtedly lead to sustainable community development.




Rotary Club of Minneapolis University

About a month ago, I attended a talk by my former human rights professor at the University of Minnesota, Barbara A. Frey. She gave a speech entitled “Protecting Human Rights in a Turbulent Time.” She talked about basic legal instruments and institutional framework designed to protect international human rights. She elaborated on how the institutional capacities are sustaining the current threat to human rights’ principal and a shift in global alliances. It was a timely presentation and her inspirational talk gave hope to many aspiring human rights defenders. As one of her former students, it was an honor to be there and share a table with her.


Me with Professor Barbara Frey


Last week, I gave a talk on “Understanding Social Conflict and Fragility in Ethiopia.” In the last two years Ethiopia, an important strategic US ally in the region, has been in the global spotlight. The government that has been in power since 1991 has been accused by human rights organizations of committing serious human rights violations against their own citizens. To bring about stability and security, the government imposed a state of emergency beginning in October of 2016, just ending last week.



I used Protracted Social Conflict (PSC), a multidisciplinary theory, to explain the root cause of the ongoing social conflict in the country, how we might better understand the complex historical legacy that led to the current situations, and the possible paths to be taken toward achieving peace in the country.


Me with Bob Margolis


Bob (Robert Margolis) the club president, Jerry Yanz (Program Co-Chair) and Emily Grobelny have been great hosts and very accommodating.

Special Acknowledgements
I would like to give special thanks to Rotary Club of Minneapolis University. It is where my journey to become a Rotary Peace Fellow began, 4 years ago. I read an article about Rotary Peace Fellowship that was written by Dr. Ellen Kennedy (co-president). She invited me to the club for an informational session. Not only I was given the opportunity to become a Peace Fellow in Uppsala Sweden, but this “small and mighty group of local professionals…with a big heart” has been with me throughout the setbacks in my life.

I want to give a big shout out to the leaders and members alike, specifically Ellen Kennedy, Bob Margolis, Bob Narotzky, Carol Cline-Hedblom, Carole Peterson, and Erica Fields. You all have a special place in my heart. 




Gabriele Gardenal – AFE Blog – Creative Associates International, Washington, DC

My experience and the first exposure to peace and violence:

 In 2004, the last year of my BA, I decided to study in Colombia for one semester as a member of the University Exchange program. Living and studying in Bogota was a very interesting experience, as travelling and discovering Colombia was enriching and eye opening. No need to say how amazing Colombian people are, with their cultural diversity and their interest in listening to your experiences. I had exposure to some of the difficulties typical of a country characterized by an ongoing conflict and with still considerable pockets of the population living in poverty. After my BA, I was interested in studying poverty from an economic perspective, with the ambition to understand the causes of poverty and to develop economic interventions to alleviate poverty. With this great ambition in mind, I went back to school, where I received my MSc in Public Administration and Economics. After two years of studying, I was looking forward to travelling to wherever the needs were, and so my trip started.

Since 2007, I have been supporting the development of communities suffering from social discrimination and extreme poverty, mainly in Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America. Between 2012 and 2016, I have been working specifically on humanitarian crises. This decision took me to one of the most fascinating and challenging countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C).

The job focused on managing an international NGO, the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI), providing relief to populations escaping war and conflict in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C).

During those four years in D.R.C., I focused on developing new programs and solutions for households escaping war torn areas. Needs assessment showed significant gaps in a variety of sectors: nutrition, access to safe water, hygiene, health, food security, civilian protection etc. The families I met were seeking a safe environment, as a temporary solution toward better living conditions. The places these families thought to be a temporary solution, most of the time turned out to be long-term solutions.

Since the war in 1996, insecurity characterized the country and in particular the eastern region. After twenty years of insecurity, in 2016, D.R.C. was the country with the highest number of new displacements due to insecurity, 922,000, and has a total displacement population of 2,230,000. Most of the time insecurity lasts for several years in these areas. When discussing the wishes of these families, many wished to go to back to their homes, but insecurity stopped them from going back. So, the new homes of these people were: refugee camps, internally displaced camps, and most of the time, displaced families were hosted by local families in host communities. All this was happening in a challenging context, as D.R.C. belongs to a group of countries that constantly score at the bottom of the Human Development Index. This is a typical picture of a complex emergency. Usually, these emergencies are protracted, and governments have little capacity to respond to the crisis because their service delivery is weak and the political environment is facing different challenges.

The Peace Fellowship and its contribution to my education:

When providing relief to displaced populations it is important to understand what drives violence and the broader context. The conflict and political analysis along with risk analysis assure humanitarian assistance increases a person’s security and well-being, while reducing potential harming risks. To increase the chances of this happening, learning about local policy, politics, actors, interests, culture and behaviors can be helpful and was one part of my job.

The Peace Fellowship at the Duke-UNC Peace Center is a unique place to study this. In my Public Health Leadership program at the University of North Carolina, I am studying evaluation techniques that help me to read the context, especially from a health and behavioral perspective. It is interesting for me to learn why people behave violently, what can reduce such behaviors and how to identify the most effective interventions. Peace and conflict courses offered by the fellowship are a great way to learn more about the macro conflict dynamics, the importance of human rights and the impact on everyday life for people.


Evening walk by Capitol Hil


The Applied Field Experience:

To pursue this field of work, I decided to spend my summer with Creative Associates, a USAID contractor working on Education, Community in Transition, Citizens Security and Preventing & Countering Violent Extremism. The organization works mainly in fragile countries or areas characterized by high levels of violence such as South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia and so on. I wanted this AFE experience to be an opportunity to understand how governments, such as the U.S.A, design their policies and programs. When working for government contractors, I can analyze the US Agency for International Development and the Department of State policy goals. Usually, these policies describe very complex environments, similar to the one of D.R.C., and set very ambitious goals such as violence reduction, increasing security and democracy, supporting transparent and fair elections and so on. Design programs that address the needs identified by such policies can be fascinating and be challenging at the same time. Having the right lens to understand the problems can be an effective way to start developing evidence based solutions. The Public Health Leadership program is providing me with statistical, research and epidemiological tools that can be highly beneficial to understanding violence and address it from a prevention perspective.

Creative was interested in further developing their Public Health Approach to Violence Prevention and Reduction in fragile contexts. The research I am conducting helps to develop and communicate how an approach that focuses on prevention, people development, support to families and mental health, can effectively reduce violence in areas where violent organizations such as gangs, extremist organizations and armed groups operate.

The work builds on epidemiological tools commonly used in the public health sector to understand what are the characteristics helping a disease to spread and what are the protective factors preventing this from happening. When these tools are used to understand violence, interesting trends emerge. In some cases, violence can be a lifelong cycle where people who experienced violence in their youth are prone to be violent in the future or become targets of violence. The impact of violence on young people can be seen later on during adulthood and the effects of this can hinder people from living a fully accomplished life.

In the case of youth and gangs, violence is a reactionary behavior and appears with a higher frequency when youth spend time in antisocial networks and when parents have little control over their children.

My research looks at how to prevent violence at three levels:

  • Identification of those communities suffering from high rates of violence and finding solutions to increase their capacity to respond to violence,
  • Identification of youth who are at higher risk compared to their peers, to affiliate with violent organizations, and support the youth and their families to prevent this from happening,
  • Provide support to people who previously committed violent acts and who are seeking to reintegrate back into their community.


Meeting with Mike T. Harvey, Former Director USAID Nigeria


The research findings are very encouraging; violence prevention works and it is possible to prevent violence from happening or recurring in all the three levels mentioned above. I would like to share with you four key messages: there is a lot to be discovered about violence, gold standards research design found some interventions effective even in the most challenging environment, innovative and effective solutions can generate important earning for the society, and it is important to share this information with the general public and decision makers.

Context matters, having a model is helpful in understanding the problems and building effective interventions. Public Health relies on hard numbers to find where, when and how much violence is happening and helps to identify the risk factors associated with violence.

Rancone 2014, shows how the justice system can play an important role in reducing violence.

In fact, once in the justice system, people who once were unaffiliated with violent organizations are now more likely to become associated with these organizations. This is more likely to happen when youth share the same facilities with adults, or where people who committed minor crimes share facilities with people who committed violent crimes1.

Another important issue concerns mental health. In the UK, the majority of gang members in the prison system have accessed psychiatric and other mental health services before entering the justice system2.

These two studies gather evidence about gaps in the current justice system in which these results can be beneficial for the justice system to improve facilities and legislature, so the system can provide better support to the people inside.


Meeting at the World Bank with Gender Specialist, Johanna Lundwall


Some interventions proved to be effective even in the most challenging environments.

Providing psychosocial and economic support to former rebels in west Africa successfully reduced antisocial behaviors within a year since the beginning of activities. In this case, psychosocial and economic support are effective solutions; when offered together, the results of these two activities were positive and were protracted. The evidence from this study can be very beneficial to all the countries going through the reintegration process of former combatants. The reintegration policies have a high default rate, these interventions along with strong political support could provide practical solutions to such a problem3.

Another example comes from an intervention offering summer work programs to youth from at risk neighbors in Chicago. Results from studies about this intervention showed a considerable reduction in violent crime among those youth undergoing the program during the first year after the intervention4.

To support the conclusions of such studies it is important to use rigorous research design, and the collaboration between development actors and academic institutions can be a powerful solution toward this goal.

Despite how expensive some reintegration programs may sound, in reality, these are much less expensive compared to the cost of managing the prison system or other less effective reintegration programs.

In Canada, a new reintegration program was designed to help people reintegrate into their communities by supporting them with ad hoc activities based on their personalities and preferences. The program successfully reintegrated 30 of the 33 youth who initially joined the program. By successfully reintegrating 30 youth, the program saved 5 million dollars from the justice system, this is the one year cost of the justice system.5 The evidence shows that despite the higher initial cost, these programs can also generate enormous benefit from an economic perspective.

Considering that the work of academia in this sector is relatively new, and major discoveries have resulted, it is important to continue supporting research in this sector. Some of the new approaches and techniques have delivered impactful results, and this is just the beginning. Supporting the academic community will assure their work continues. Sharing the results produced by this research can help impact policies and support politicians and others in decision-making positions, to make better decisions.

I hope my work at Creative Associates has contributed towards increasing the efficacy of their efforts toward peace, especially in those areas where insecurity has spread and affects the everyday lives of the population.

Beyond my personal work, the AFE was an interesting opportunity to work with people from other sectors, such as security, the justice system, and economics and so on. Their experiences they shared with me were very enriching. I had the pleasure to work with Susan, a teacher who has dedicated thirty years of her life teaching in the Middle East. Now she is managing a project supporting literacy in Afghanistan, with her practical experience, she is able to communicate what being a teacher means. It was also great to work with 16 members of the summer program, to learn from their work and hear their thoughts on how peace can be enhanced from the economic, justice system and education perspectives.


Visiting the Capitol

Washington D.C. was a great place to spend my summer. Thanks to Creative Associates, I had the chance to visit: the United States Institute of Peace, the US State Capitol, the US Agency for International Development, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brooking Institute. The meetings with all of these institutes were enriching. I had the chance to learn more about their work and meet with some of their directors. In particular, I had the pleasure to meet Michael T. Harvey, former director of USAID Nigeria, who led the action supporting civilian population fleeing Boko Haram.


4th of July by the Washington Memorial


Overall, this experience has been a great source of inspiration to continue my work, and I would recommend it to future Peace Fellows and anybody else interested in the sector.


  1. Roncone ES, Delisi M, Beaver K, Gangl A, Wold J. DYNAMICS OF PRISON GANG AFFILIATION AND VIOLENCE: THE HEARTLESS FELONS AND THE DOWN THE WAY BOYS—A SOCIAL LEARNING STUDY. 2014. http://media.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/media/pq/classic/doc/3287234911/fmt/ai/rep/NPDF?cit%3Aauth=Roncone%2C+Erik+S.&cit%3Atitle=%3CTitleAtt+RawLang%3D%22English%22+HTMLContent%3D%22true%22%3EDynamics+of+prison+…&cit%3Apub=ProQuest+Dissertations. Accessed July 5, 2017.
  2. Coid JW, Ullrich S, Keers R, et al. Gang Membership, Violence, and Psychiatric Morbidity. Am J Psychiatry. 2013;170:985-993. http://media.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/media/pq/classic/doc/3093377061/fmt/pi/rep/NONE?cit%3Aauth=Coid%2C+Jeremy+W%3BUllrich%2C+Simone%3BKeers%2C+Robert%3BBebbington%2C+Paul%3BDeStavola%2C+Bianca+L%3BKallis%2C+Constantinos%3BYang%2C+Min%3BReiss%2C+David%3BJenkins%2C+Rachel%3BDonnelly%2C+Peter&cit%3Atitle=Gang+Membership%2C+Violence%2C+and+Psychiatric+Morbidity&cit%3Apub=The+American+Journal+of+Psychiatry&cit%3Avol=170&cit%3Aiss=9&cit%3Apg=985&cit%3Adate=Sep+2013&ic=true&cit%3Aprod=ProQuest+Central&_a=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%3D&_s=1n4nA0oIE4ATdWEkqpxBcdbSKrI%3D. Accessed June 22, 2017.
  3. Blattman C, Jamison JC, Sheridan M, et al. Reducing crime and violence : Experimental evidence from cognitive behavioral therapy in Liberia ∗. 2016. doi:10.3386/w21204.
  4. Davis JM V, Heller SB, Bonhomme S, et al. Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs. 2017. http://www.nber.org/papers/w23443. Accessed July 10, 2017.
  5. Beausoleil V, Renner C, Dunn J, et al. The effect and expense of redemption reintegration services versus usual reintegration care for young African Canadians discharged from incarceration. Heal Soc Care Community. 2017;25(2):590-601. doi:10.1111/hsc.12346.


Chenai Kadungure – AFE Blog – Social Designs, Greensboro, NC

Building Future Leaders for SustainABLE Peace

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world”. –Jack Ma

What I wanted out of an Applied Field Experience (AFE):

Upon the completion of my Masters in Global Studies, with a Certificate in International Development, I plan to work in the international development sector. My topics of interest in International development are civic engagement, democratisation, and economic and sustainable development. My capstone thesis will focus on leadership, so finding an internship that included it, would be ideal for giving me the best of both my career and academic life. I wanted an AFE that would address one or all of these. As I did my search, I found a few that addressed these, but Change Institute touched on all, excluding democratisation. Because I have only worked in Africa, I was specifically attracted to the opportunity of working in both Greensboro and Barbados, which added two very different countries and another continent to my growing global experience. That shift of context alone was enough to address gaps in my career, but through my AFE, I achieved so much more.

The Change Institute (CI) is a Global Leadership Training & Travel Exchange Program for Youth aged Grades 9-12. Founded by Social Designs, this is a two-week long study abroad program, where youth from Greensboro, North Carolina travel to Barbados to learn about; culture, conflict resolution, sustainability, food justice and equity. The world is in a sustainability crisis. Projects like Change Institute slow the growing problems by upskilling youth to remedy them. Fostering an entrepreneurial and leadership perspective in young people will ultimately lead to international communities that are fully engaged in ensuring the world can meet the United Nations 2020 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals, while ambitious, are embodying everything the world aims to do in achieving that shiny unicorn of “world peace”. I very much appreciated the links between Rotary’s own work and focus areas and what my AFE offered.


Students from a previous CI cohort. (image sourced from Social Designs)


Why I chose Change:

“Leadership requires the courage to make decisions that will benefit the next generation. –Alan Autry

If there is anything my career has proven to me, it is that I have a penchant for adding new or transforming initiatives. There is something energising and exciting in helping organisations forge a path for their future work. In working both with CI and its Barbados based partner, The Sojourner Foundation (TSF), I had the amazing opportunity to work directly on the growth direction of the organisations, as well as influence which future projects they would consider doing in Africa. In working with both organisations, it was highly appealing for me to have the opportunity to help shape our future leaders. As a change agent whose vision is “creating an impact by inspiring, encouraging and developing the world”, the alignment of both organisations, with this plan for the future, made the choice easy of all the opportunities that were presented to me.

My role at CI and TSF

Below is a brief description of my role as an International Program Development Fellow. In two months, I stretched myself by sharpening existing skills while at the same time, challenged myself in a very new terrain.I worked in Greensboro, North Carolina for one month, supporting the development of Change Institute. I spent the second month in Barbados, where I continued to work for CI and TSF, implementing similar procedures, with the welcome addition of going to multiple sites and partner visits, which helped me to see the operational components of this work, including:

  • Fundraising
  • Strategic Development –recruitment, expansion and funding
  • Supporting organisational capacity development
  • Research (Academic and Market related)
  • Investor and potential investor relations/partnership work
  • Developing Programmatic Measurement Tools


African-American knowledge exchange

“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards”. –Theodore Zeldin

The above quote, best describes what it was like for me working with the CI team in Greensboro, NC. Amazingly, it felt like even though I stood as an African woman talking to African-American women, it was clear we could have been neighbours raised in the same community, because of the alignment and connection we made with each other. It was magical when we would arrive at similar conclusions, request similar information from one another and question certain facts, as if we were of one mind in many or many minds in one. The interactions gave me hope, if there can be so much harmony between us as strangers, the same can be done for many other people who feel isolated in the development journey.


My Greensboro office at Collab. (image sourced at greensborodailyphoto)


My favourite structure in Greensboro CBD near the Guildford county court house.


Afro-Carribean fusions:

The Sojourner Foundation (TSF) is a charity and a non-governmental organization (NGO) which exists to become a catalyst for community cohesion. The foundation has been facilitating this by running sustainable farming projects, especially geared at youth and women development at Kamp Deed; a 30-acre farm in St Andrew’s Church Parish in Barbados. It is currently busy with the UNDP funded Operation Eradication Project and soon to begin Operation Kultivation – thanks to the support of the Marie Holden Memorial trust.

While I was there, it was harvest and hurricane season. The dynamic team of farmers and project managers were happy to benefit from the rain of Tropical Storm Don. Growing everything from cucumbers, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and various trees, the farm boasts some of the freshest, fully organic vegetables, and will also create organic fungicides and pesticides this year.


An impressive expert presentation on composting at Kamp Deed.


Kamp Deed: the 30-acre farm where TSF operates.


With some of my colleagues at The Sojourner Foundation.


My favourite place: The cool and shady bamboo corner, at an often hot and humid Kamp Deed.


One of the most interesting discoveries I made over my trip in Barbados, was that of how Bajans view Africa. People took a keen interest in me, as someone from the continent. There seemed to be a hope that if Africa can make it out of “dark continent” status, there is, even more hope, for those in the Caribbean. Many local people reiterated this in various ways, and the music was one of the ways they did this. This is why my colleagues at TSF felt it would be great to collaborate on songs and I featured on two. Due to their appeal to youth, in particular, the use of music was a profound way of relaying messages of the world they dream of. I enjoyed the experience and especially enjoyed acting as a bridge between Barbados and Zimbabwe.


I enjoyed discussing sustainability with Shari Inniss from UNDP Barbados as we planned for the next cohort of CI students.




Putting the inability in sustainability

“The nature and structure of belief systems are important from the perspective of an informational theorist because beliefs are thought to provide the cognitive foundation of an attitude. In order to change an attitude, then, it is presumably necessary to modify the information on which that attitude rests. It is generally necessary, therefore, to change a person’s beliefs, eliminate old beliefs or introduce new beliefs.”— Richard Petty and John Cacioppo

If there is something I have learnt about sustainability, it is that the ability to perform it, is steeped in opposition. Most people are unwilling to unlearn habits that affect the environment and this is further compounded by the contexts and circumstances of individuals. Someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from, is hard pressed to care about the effect of their accumulated plastic being dumped in the ocean. The Future Centre Trust works tirelessly to convey educational messages as well as legislation around the effects, but the largest opponent to remedying the problem seems to be a change of mindset.


This sign was present in almost all public places in Barbados.


There is a level of privilege associated with sustainability, as green living itself is expensive. As an example, the ease and efficiency of plastics or dryers versus the inconvenience of recycling bags, drying laundry on a washing line are key challenges to this endeavour. There is a need to get smarter about how we can encourage ‘responsible convenience’. I will discuss this more in my concluding thoughts.


While in Barbados, I met with Rotarians who invited me to the installation dinners of the 2017-2018 Rotary Club of Barbados (RCOB) and the Rotary Club of Barbados South. At the RCOB installation, I was fortunate to meet amazing people like Barbados’ President of the Senate Kerryann Ifill. She became the first woman to hold that position, and the first person with a disability, as well as the youngest ever holder of the position, at the age of 38. I also had great conversations with PDG and Assistant Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator, David Edwards who seemed to know every Rotarian on the planet. It was delightful getting to know PDG Milton Inniss and his wife, as we attended a few events together. These connections were  valuable, as I facilitated the future involvement of Rotary affiliated Bajan youth, in Change Institute’s future cohorts, as well as discussed project ideas. I hope to see TSF connect with Rotarians in Barbados, as they are a growing organisation, but share synergies in opportunities for community development. RCOB president, Paul Ashby was busy with a Global Grant on Sustainable Lives, which TSF and CI will definitely benefit from.

In my last week, I was a speaker at the RCOB meeting and I enjoyed networking with Rotarians there. When I spoke at the Rotary Club of Barbados, the message of Afro-Caribbean connections continued, and we ended up planning an exchange trip where their members can visit Zimbabwean Rotarians so that they could see for themselves the amazing work Rotary is doing in Zimbabwe.


The Afro-Caribbean handshake of friendship with Rotary Club of Barbados Paul Ashby.


An amazing limited edition gift was given to the RCOB Installation dinner attendees, with an inspiring message attached.


Lessons learnt and final thoughts

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”— Niccolo Machiavelli

A recurring theme in my conversations with fellow “soldiers for peace” in Barbados was that around lip service. Many people felt like sustainability and environmental preservation were hot topics to discuss and deliberate about, but they never dared to act on them. There was very little action to follow the popular talk. This is what drove groups like TSF to literally get their hands dirty and walk the talk of sustainability. My uncle volunteers weekly with Future Centre Trust and has taken sustainability as a type of religion. One can’t merely like or promote it. It is a lifestyle and very few people are capable of practising it.

As much as I love new adventures, challenges and endeavours, I have learnt the mammoth task involved in working in sustainable development. Beyond the daily concern of climate change, I found that the minds of people; myself included are a bigger challenge. Without the buy-in of ordinary people in changing their daily behaviours, convenience and self-serving actions continue to overshadow the hope in remedying the situation. How do we get beyond plastic, beyond electricity abuse, beyond water wastage, beyond pollution, when they are reliant on the daily actions of individuals? We need to get smarter about making impactful laws that make it difficult to remain compliant, redesign how we access these via technology and innovation, but no doubt, the road to solutions will not be a smooth one. Thank goodness people like us are up for the ride!



Johanna Schubert – AFE Blog – United Nations, Medical Services Division, New York, NY

“Choose a placement that fits your field of studies and interest, with any organization of your choice, in any country you want – as long as you’re reasonably safe.”

This was the basic instruction for a Rotary Peace Fellow, to choose an Applied Field Experience that will enrich and keep us busy over the summer trimester. Wow. There I was, sitting in front of my laptop in October last year, feeling like I had just arrived in North Carolina, and I was supposed to identify the perfect option for my professional development and future career somewhere on this planet– no pressure! And at the same time: What a privilege. Choose wisely! But what, with so many options?

Soon I figured out the main criteria for my choice of an AFE: I wanted to be of use (to the organization as well as to beneficiaries directly), learn something new, and find an organization that I would enjoy working with afterwards and that actually is employing new staff even in May 2018. After much deliberation, I decided to stay in my general field of expertise, Mental Health, but to challenge myself with a broader focus, applying Public Health methods and mechanisms that I had acquired at the Gillings School of Public Health, UNC, so far. So, I ended up applying to various organizations such as the International Medical Corps (IMC), UN Headquarters, the International Criminal Court, the World Food Program, UNHCR, WHO, and the World Bank, throwing my hat in the ring. In the end, UNHCR, WHO, and the IMC decided for me that I should work under the IMC’s roof, but on projects for their umbrella organization, the Mental Health Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Working Group in Gaziantep, Turkey, at the refugee camps along the Syrian border. My focus would be to evaluate the provision of Mental Health Support to refugees, in specific the care taken of children and adults with cognitive disabilities. Also, the MHPSS working group wanted me to lead a consensus process on the definition of Mental Health terms in order to enhance communication and cooperation between agencies. It was great! I successfully negotiated with both Rotary and UNC (Thank you, Shai!) to convince everybody that I would be safe and could handle myself in today’s Turkey. I booked my flight and was good to go.


Nizip Refugee camp in Gaziantep, Source: European Commission .


However, shortly before my departure, the Turkish government started to arrest even solely German journalists and aid workers in Turkey for allegations of espionage and conspiracy. Hmm. Slightly unsettling. Then, two weeks before my booked flight, my supervisor at the IMC called me to tell me they had to put all operations to a halt, as they had not received the necessary assurance from the local government in order to proceed with their work. It was possible that they would have to pull out of Turkey completely and abort all projects. The organization was very cooperative and friendly, however in the end the internship had to be cancelled.

What to do, at such short notice? Luckily, from previous work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, 2010, I was still in touch with some of my colleagues, who were so kind to help me out immediately. Soon I received an offer from UN Headquarters, Medical Services Division, to support the Staff Counselor’s Office in New York City. They knew about my background in Stress- and Psychotrauma Prevention for Humanitarian Aid Staff and my qualification as a psychotherapist in Germany and therefore warmly welcomed me to their team for the summer to support their Mental Health Strategy, Occupational Mental Health Risk Assessments, as well as the Training Needs Assessment for UN Medical Staff worldwide. This offer was a wonderful opportunity, as it combined every part of my previous professional experience, with my newly acquired skills in Public Health Leadership.


UN Headquarters in New York City


First day at the Medical Services Division


View from my desk at the Staff Counselor’s Office – courtesy of a caring team!



“Non-Violence”, the famous knotted gun sculpture donated to the UN by the government of Luxembourg in 1988


“What we see is a new type of war veteran, the international humanitarian worker, returning from battlefields unable to escape the horrors seen there.” [1]

We all admire international professionals like our fellow Rotary Peace Fellows and all other committed Humanitarian Aid Workers worldwide for the fact that they dedicate their life to support the less fortunate, foster peace and mutual understanding, further the economic and infrastructural development of less-developed or war-torn regions.

But who takes care of the Peace Builders and Aid Workers?

Interestingly, for decades the world just assumed that they are invulnerable, immune against the atrocities they are witnessing in their jobs, like heroes in movies or on TV who simply shake off their experiences, crack a joke and live happily ever after. The British Army in WWI first recognized a condition called “shell shock”, when physically intact soldiers trembled uncontrollably for days or even weeks after traumatic experiences (recommended reading: Dr Jonathan Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character”). Since then, slowly but surely the world learned to recognize Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a common consequence of extreme and existentially threatening incidents or experiences of loss. Today, International Organizations are much further realizing the impact, of not only traumatic stress, but also seemingly small or routine factors such as everyday work stress or the effect of bad management on employees’ mental and physical health. The UN, like many other organizations, now has been working on the improvement of psychosocial care for their employees in the cause of duty of care for several years now, the employer’s ethical and legal obligation to avert any foreseeable harm to their staff members.

Duty of care does not exclusively consists of basic security and physical integrity. And it is not only direct attacks on UN staff and premises such as the attack on the UN guest house in Kabul, 2009, or the bombing in Abuja, 2011 that can severely affect UN staff members’ mental health and wellbeing. UN duty stations all have their health and safety hazards immediately or progressively affecting employees’ health status. This Fall, the Medical Services Division will publish a major Mental Health Survey they undertook recently in order to find out more about the status quo of their staff members’ psychosocial wellbeing globally. The team used a comprehensive online assessment tool to screen for a number of risk factors and possible symptoms for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Hazardous Alcohol Consumption. Over 15,000 staff members globally participated. For reasons of confidentiality and not to ruin the suspense, let me only say so much: The results will certainly show that the efforts to identify and tackle mental health hazards to staff are a good idea. My role in this project is mainly to serve as a qualified cold reader, also to prepare presentations on the results and support the core team finalizing the report for submission to the Secretary General, His Excellency Mr António Guterres.


Feeling humble in front of the impressive UN Headquarters building


Currently, my supervisor Dawn Straiton, the Staff Counselor’s Office’s Chief, is conducting Mental Health Risk Assessments at different duty stations in order to get first impressions of the different intra- and extra-organizational mental health hazards to the staff members. I am supporting her, identifying and appraising validated online assessment tools for a global assessment and risk-mapping to prepare the factual basis for targeted mental health risk management interventions.

In-between, I have tasks a little less gloomy and more exhilarating, and that is everything related to Chloe, the therapy dog.

Meet Chloe, the certified Therapy Dog at UN Headquarters, with official UN ID card


















From February until June 2017, she visited a number of different offices and received visitors at the Staff Counselor’s Office for stress relief! To the reader unfamiliar to the concept of Animal-Assisted-Activities and Therapy, this may sound surprising: UN staff petting and playing with a dog during working hours? Don’t they have more serious stuff to do? Actually: No. UN staff everywhere are under a lot of pressure and carry a lot of responsibility. Successful Stress Management is key for them to continue doing their job at the best of their capabilities, and pleasant breaks from war and humanitarian crisis are crucial to take a breath and avoid burning out in the long run. For people who are not opposed to dogs for allergic, personal, religious, or hygienic reasons, interaction with a dog can actually significantly reduce symptoms of depression [2, 3, 4, 5], anxiety [4, 5, 6, 7, 8], high blood pressure and heartrate [4, 8, 9, 10, 18], PTSD [11, 12] as well as chronic pain and fibromyalgia [11, 13, 14, 15, 16]. The positive effect of animals on human wellbeing is believed to be mainly mediated by an increase in oxytocin levels in the blood through physical contact and display of affection between the animal and the human individual [17, 18, 19, 20, 21]. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide and peptide hormone primarily related to social bonding and sexual reproduction, but increasingly found to be linked to various physical and psychological health benefits, such as decreased stress levels, reduced depression and anxiety in both humans and animals, as well as to more satisfying relationships in life [22, 23, 24, 25].

In a nutshell: Hanging out with Chloe the therapy dog is fun AND good for your health:


“No comment…”

All current interns at the Medical Services Division enjoying a break with dog therapy


Last, but not least, my current most challenging task is the Training Needs Assessment for global UN Medical Staff. The UN provides clinics in remote locations providing emergency health care, occupational health support, medical evacuation and referral services to staff members and eligible dependents. For medical staff in general, the rapidly changing nature of their profession makes it crucial to participate in Continuous Professional Development. While it is not mandatory in all employees’ countries of origin, it is certainly desirable from an organizational point of view in order to provide UN staff, based in remote and underserved areas, with best-possible health care and to build local capacity, training national health care staff along the way. My job is to develop a comprehensive concept on how to incorporate systematic Training Needs Assessment into the Standard Operating Procedures of the Medical Services Division and ideally create tools in order to do so. The diversity of the staff members’ backgrounds, locations, resources and occupational demands make this an interesting puzzle to solve. My previous experience in hospital quality management back in Germany is of great help in this.

My brooding over my knowledge transfer flowchart was briefly interrupted last week by a fire alarm (“This is not a drill!”), causing the evacuation of the entire UN building, which went very smoothly. Nonetheless interesting how your perception of these incidents changes when you are studying for a FEMA certificate in Disaster Management at UNC Chapel Hill!


The entire UN Secretariat Building being evacuated July 18th 2017 due to a faulty smoke detector


A highlight besides work was certainly my trip to the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. I had been invited to lead a breakout-session on “Resilience in the Field”, stress management for Rotarians undertaking field projects. Of course, I was honored to contribute my expertise to the colorful and inspiring buffet of breakout sessions offered at the Convention. Almost 100 participants attended the session and I was incredibly happy that everyone was so interested and active, that we could collect a number of factors and suggestions how to make Rotary field projects successful and a positive experience for all concerned. Currently, I am analyzing the notes and group work results in order to provide the Rotary Foundation with written recommendations to hand out to interested Rotary Clubs.


Workshop preparations


A little theory about instinctive stress reactions


Productive group discussions on stress factors on Rotary field trips


What I have always loved about the Rotary Conferences is all the inspiring people you can meet and listen to. And this time, apart from amazing keynote speakers during the general sessions, I was most inspired by fellow Peace Fellows. To see what they have accomplished further down the road from where I am, the projects they are undertaking, NGOs they founded – there is no better energizer to strive for more impact and success on the path in the international field.

The day after my breakout session, I wanted to inhale some more of this spirit but came too late: The Session “A Day in the Life of a Peace Fellow” was completely full with 25 people waiting outside the door in vain. Encouraged by Beccah Bartlett, I then initiated a spontaneous breakout session next door as it would have been a pity not to serve all these very interested Rotarians who wanted to learn more about the program!


Spontaneous breakout session “A Day in the Life of a Peace Fellow”

And of course, the fellowship of the Rotarian family is another factor that makes the international conventions so special:

…with fellow Peace Fellows…


… as well as with German Rotary friends I haven’t seen in many years.

All that is left from a summer that went by so quickly are three more weeks to finish up my work for the UN, say good-bye to New York and go back to North Carolina via Germany, where I will visit my family after eight months “on the way”.

Summing up, I have to say I was incredibly fortunate to have such a great “Plan B” for my AFE, which brought me in touch with a lot of committed professionals working behind the curtain to keep the UN staff in the field fit and sane for life as well as their job. I learned a lot about Occupational (Mental) Health administration for Peace Builders and feel encouraged in my strive to “help the helpers”, a concern of mine since 2009. I will continue my studies in Global Public Health Leadership with a new inspiration and energy, and all that’s left to say for now is



Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals at UN Headquarters, July 2017

New York, New York! Visiting the sculpture “The Sphere” (by artist Fritz Koenig from my home town Landshut), that used to be located in front of the World Trade Center and was miraculously spared on 9/11


Bye-Bye, New York City!




[1] Smith, B., Agger, I., Danieli, Y., & Weisæth, L. (1996). Health activities across traumatized populations. Emotional Responses of International Humanitarian Aid Workers. In: Y. Danieli, N.S. Rodley, L. Weisæth (Eds.), International Responses to Traumatic Stress (pp. 397-423). Amityville, NY: Baywood.

[2] Folse, E. B., Minder, C. C., Aycock, M. J., & Santana, R. T. (1994). Animal-assisted therapy and depression in adult college students. Anthrozoös, 7(3), 188-194.

[3] Souter, M. A., & Miller, M. D. (2007). Do animal-assisted activities effectively treat depression? A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(2), 167-180.

[4] Nimer, J., & Lundahl, B. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy: A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(3), 225-238.

[5] Berget, B., Ekeberg, Ø., Pedersen, I., & Braastad, B. O. (2011). Animal-assisted therapy with farm animals for persons with psychiatric disorders: effects on anxiety and depression, a randomized controlled trial. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 27(1), 50-64.

[6] Barker, S. B., & Dawson, K. S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric services, 49(6), 797-801.

[7] Barker, S. B., Pandurangi, A. K., & Best, A. M. (2003). Effects of animal-assisted therapy on patients’ anxiety, fear, and depression before ECT. The journal of ECT, 19(1), 38-44.

[8] Cole, K. M., Gawlinski, A., Steers, N., & Kotlerman, J. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy in patients hospitalized with heart failure. American Journal of Critical Care, 16(6), 575-585.

[9] Lasa, S. M., Ferriero, G., Brigatti, E., Valero, R., & Franchignoni, F. (2011). Animal-assisted interventions in internal and rehabilitation medicine: a review of the recent literature. Panminerva Med, 53(2), 129-36.

[10] Morrison, M. L. (2007). Health benefits of animal-assisted interventions. Complementary health practice review, 12(1), 51-62.

[11] Yount, R. A., Olmert, M. D., & Lee, M. R. (2012). Service dog training program for treatment of posttraumatic stress in service members. US Army Medical Department Journal, 63-69.

[12] Dietz, T. J., Davis, D., & Pennings, J. (2012). Evaluating animal-assisted therapy in group treatment for child sexual abuse. Journal of child sexual abuse, 21(6), 665-683.

[13] Marcus, D. A., Bernstein, C. D., Constantin, J. M., Kunkel, F. A., Breuer, P., & Hanlon, R. B. (2012). Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Medicine, 13(1), 45-57.

[14] Lust, E., Ryan-Haddad, A., Coover, K., & Snell, J. (2007). Measuring clinical outcomes of animal-assisted therapy: Impact on resident medication usage. The Consultant Pharmacist®, 22(7), 580-585.

[15] Coakley, A. B., & Mahoney, E. K. (2009). Creating a therapeutic and healing environment with a pet therapy program. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 15(3), 141-146.

[16] Marcus, D. A., Bernstein, C. D., Constantin, J. M., Kunkel, F. A., Breuer, P., & Hanlon, R. B. (2013). Impact of animal‐assisted therapy for outpatients with fibromyalgia. Pain Medicine, 14(1), 43-51.

[17] Uvnäs Moberg, K. (2010). Oxytocin verbindet. Deutsche Hebammen Zeitschrift, 1(2010), 12-17.

[18] Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234.

[19] Chandler, C. K. (2012). Animal assisted therapy in counseling. Routledge.

[20] Rothbaum, B. O. (2013). Service Dogs in Military Medicine. Psychiatric Annals, 43(6), 291-291.

[21] Olmert, M. D. (2010). Made for each other: The biology of the human-animal bond. Da Capo Press.

[22] Amico, J. A., Mantella, R. C., Vollmer, R. R., and Li, X. (2004). Anxiety and stress responses in female oxytocindeficient mice. J. Neuroendocrinol. 16, 319–324.

[23] Guastella, A. J., Howard, A. L., Dadds, M. R., Mitchell, P., and Carson, D. S. (2009). A randomized controlled trial of intranasal oxytocin as an adjunct to exposure therapy for social anxiety disorder. Psychoneuroendocrinology 34, 917–923.

[24] Kirsch, P., Esslinger, C., Chen, Q., Mier, D., Lis, S., Siddhanti, S., and Gallhofer, B. (2005). Oxytocin modulates neural circuitry for social cognition and fear in humans. J. Neurosci. 25, 11489–11493.

[25] Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (1994). Role of efferent and afferent vagal nerve activity during reproduction. Integrating function of oxytocin on metabolism and behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology 19, 687–695.


Francesca Sorbara – AFE blog – University of Valle, Cali, Colombia


Colombia is a land of natural born storytellers, and a treasure trove of never-ending, amazing, incredible stories, many of which – unfortunately – do not have a happy ending.

But all of the stories that I have heard so far– even when deadly or gruesome – are also full of life, emotion, struggle and hope. Some, are very sensitive real-life cases, which cannot be told without placing at risk, the people who have told them, and the people who are their protagonists.

For an anthropologist eager to have meaningful encounters with people, and to listen to the narratives of their lives and struggles, “Colombia is a paradise”, even more in this crucial and very delicate socio-political conjuncture.

I am loving every second in this amazing land: often a smile and a very innocent question can trigger an entire afternoon of detailed incredible narratives on past and present politics and adventures, most times enriched with other spicy comments. Ironically, I am starting to think that Gabriel Garcia Marquez – the famous Nobel laureate writer – did not have much to discover himself, when writing his amazing books about the land of Macondo and its inhabitants (of course, this is just a joke!).

Graffiti featuring Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in Cartagena

I wonder if this trust and ease to share very personal and delicate details, may be a kind of social mechanism enabling people to bear the burden and the worries that continue in their hearts, after the war. These people are often still struggling and fighting for a peace, one not so real and not so close, as the media and the Colombian government would like the world to believe.


Official event “Inclusion and education, pillars for Peace”, in Bogota, with the presence of Jean Arnault, chief of the UN Mission in Colombia; Sergio Jaramillo, Colombian High Commissioner for Peace; Fatima Muriel, feminist social activist from Putumayo region; Ivan Marquez, member of the FARC secretariat.

In the past weeks, I have spoken with people receiving death threats from unnamed armed groups, I have seen the fresh initials of old and new guerrillas painted on signboards in the streets, and I have listened to the trustworthy accounts of people, who have seen small or large battalions of armed people, climbing up towards the mountains or crossing the town in the middle of the day, all under the incredulous eyes of locals. Targeted executions of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla members, drug dealers, corrupted policemen and even of social leaders and human rights activists are still a reality, especially in rural towns and villages, traditionally ruled by the FARC. In spite of this reality, not all of these crimes end up being reported in the news. District attorneys (Fiscalías) in some parts of the country lack the capacity, the political will, or simply the courage to investigate and prosecute all of these alarming crimes.

Sharing my account is not meant to scare, however I do believe these dramatic facts should be known and reported along with the important achievements of the official Peace agreements and the good news in Colombia that have recently echoed around the world. Behind the official Peace agreements,[1] another reality exists, and it is not as idyllic as we all would hope. The word ‘peace’, may become just an empty term, if we do not understand that the recent official agreements, between the Colombian state and the FARC guerrilla, are just the starting point for a long joint process and effort. We should be aware that the State and the FARC were not the only armed stakeholders involved in the Colombian conflict: other guerrillas and paramilitary groups have not been dismantled, and are still active and ruling over illegal businesses in regions, such as Cauca and others. Violence and conflicts are not completely over, they are just shifting, changing shapes, procedures and the names of their main armed actors.

“Quien critica la paz, ama la paz”

 “Who criticizes peace, loves peace”. I heard this sentence for the first time, in the International Congress at the University of Nariño,[2] in the city of Pasto, around one month ago. It is a common stance among most social and indigenous leaders and it comes back to my mind every time I listen to a controversial political analysis willing to point out different views on the Peace process.

The world-renowned Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Souza Santos, whom I had the chance to meet and listen to, at the University of Cauca – at the beginning of my AFE – specifically talks of Neoliberal Peace versus Democratic Peace, and he warns against the risks that are inherent to the first one.


International Conference in the University of Nariño, Pasto. Celebrating with friends from the University of Cauca and Nariño

Many rural and indigenous communities – some of which I had the chance to meet and visit in my AFE – are currently targeted by foreign and national mining extractive industries – often illegal – other times well-known mining multinationals with their headquarters in Canada, Australia or elsewhere.[3] These rural communities accuse the Colombian government of being absent and willing to do business at the expense of their ancestral land, water and health, taking advantage of the new opportunities created by the recent Peace accords and the FARC’s dismantlement.[4] These people, indigenous, peasants or afro-Colombian, claim their right to access a properly regulated consultation, according to 169 OIT Convention.[5]

In this both promising and problematic conjuncture, the EU announced in May, a new fund for Colombia of around 600 million euros, including grants for a total amount of 95 million euros. Other international donors recently announced or formed other special funds for Colombia: the World Bank, the multi-donor fund of the UN system, the sustainable fund of the IDB[6], and the special fund created by the Colombian government, “Colombia en Paz” (Colombia in peace).[7]

At the edge of optimistic and consistent international investments, it is possible to hear a few critical and well-informed voices coming from some of the same UN bodies present and working in Colombia. The UN OHCHR[8]  has been accompanying communities and social and indigenous movements in Colombia since its presence in the country.  This office often works as an impartial negotiator and advocate of Human Rights in disputes between the State, armed actors and rural communities and Indigenous movements. Every year, this UN office publishes an annual report on the situation of Human Rights in Colombia. According to their last report,[9] in 2016, 59 human rights defenders have been killed in targeted assassinations, but other institutions such as the Colombian Ombudsman gives higher estimates and maintains that 156 social leaders were killed from January, 1st, 2016 to March 1st, 2017, in just 14 months.[10] According to CRIC,[11] many of these executions specifically targeted and killed indigenous leaders who “said no to the mining engine”. According to UN OHCHR’s representative in Colombia, Todd Howland, “the economic, social and political inclusion of communities who live in areas traditionally influenced by the FARC guerrilla” is the best way to prevent the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders.[12] This UN office also advocates for an increased involvement of Colombian civil society in the peace process. These are reasonable and heart-felt recommendations by a UN representative who is known for his commitment and care for Colombian people and social movements, but it has still to be seen: How? According to which model are these suggestions to be put in place, in order to be really beneficial to local people and different cultures?


Meeting in Popayan with UN OHCHR, CRIC and the Secretary of the Special Justice of Peace (Justicia Especial de Paz)


Popayan, capital of the Cauca department, also known as the White City.

During my AFE, and as a part of my research, I was lucky enough to witness and accompany some important joint processes and negotiations between UN OHCHR and the indigenous movement in the Cauca region. I continued asking myself: In which way, can Human Rights – and the articulation with Human Rights International Organizations – be really useful for the emancipation of Indigenous and Social movements? What does ‘Peace’ really mean to different stakeholders, social actors and people with different stances, cultures and ethnicities? Where stands the constitutionally guaranteed Autonomy of indigenous people, in this process?

In the search for some preliminary answers to these questions, I was mostly in Nasa[13] indigenous communities, congresses and assemblies, where I interviewed different political and traditional authorities, who are or were part of, the strongest indigenous organizations of Colombia: CRIC and ACIN.[14]


Peaceful view from my little room in San Francisco, Toribio

A typical meal: sancocho de gallina (chicken&veggies soup) and Coca Sek


While I write this piece, I am in a small and tidy municipal library in Toribio,[15] looking outside of the window, I catch sight of condors flying in circles over the mountain and two brown horses walking by, in search of a better place to eat some fresh juicy grass. Some years ago, I would not have been able to be here, easily visiting, interviewing and writing, as I am doing now.


Left: musical parade towards the House of Culture in Toribio. Right: house of the Cabildo of Toribio, office of the Indigenous traditional authorities in town.


The little town of Toribio,[16] mostly inhabited by Nasa people, received more than 700 attacks during the war between the Colombian state and the FARC guerrilla, the last ones only just reported in 2015. In spite of this dramatic recent history, few people were displaced in this area: they instead strengthened their organization in order to resist the difficulties of the war in their own territory, and in some cases managed to throw guerrillas out of their territories, rescue kidnapped authorities and negotiate ceasefires. Proyecto Nasa[17] – an autonomous and locally-led initiative of governance and local development funded in Toribio – won the National Peace Prize in 2000. Nowadays, Toribio is a small and quiet town, possible to visit without major inconvenience. But underneath the present situation of relative peace, there is a hidden, illegal and still dramatic world that is easier to get a glimpse of after dusk: the beautiful patterns of lights dressing up the mountains all over the town are not part of a bucolic nativity scene, but are meant to ‘energize’ the illegal crops during the night, so that the plants of marijuana can grow faster and stronger. Some families make their living by selling the products of these plantations to ‘new’ guerrillas or to paramilitary groups who are nowadays taking the territory left ‘free and empty’ by the demobilized FARC. In the life of these families, there is no more night for a peaceful rest, nor for admiring the beautiful starry sky over the mountains. Only lights, and a dazing aroma, all day long. Is this Peace?


Top: Andean corn, a typical local product (left). Coffee drying under the sun, in Toribio (right). Bottom: Annual Barter’s fair in Toribio (left), with different local businesses taking part (right).


Weaving is both a spiritual and an economic activity in many indigenous cultures in Latin America.

The Cauca region has been, for a long time, one of the main territories of social and political turmoil in Colombia. In most of this region, the peace process has been problematic and challenging, due to the presence of armed actors, illegal economies and extractive industries, fighting for the control over the territory and threatening or dividing communities.

This land is also the ancestral territory of one of the most resisting and fierce indigenous people of Latin America: the Nasa people. According to their own historical perspective, their resistance started in the XVI century, with the arrival of the first Spanish conquerors. The main Nasa mandate has been for centuries and still is “to set free the Mother Earth”, from exploitation, extractive industries, guerrillas and other armed groups, and – to use their own expressions – “from whatever or whoever des-harmonizes the sacred balance among nature and humankind, that must be preserved and protected”.

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca – CRIC was founded in 1971 by different indigenous people living in the Cauca region, and is one of the leading indigenous organizations in Latin America. The CRIC’s motto is “Unity in defense of territory, life and autonomy of indigenous people”.[18]

This organization, and ACIN later, supported and coordinated important initiatives for autonomy, resistance and self-defense during the war, in a territory that was mostly abandoned by the State and occupied by FARC guerrilla. The Nasa resistance was recently analyzed for drawing connections with Ghandian non-violent movement and practices: Nasa people created during the war, La Guardia Indígena, the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed and volunteer corps that was institutionalized in 2001, and that won the National Peace Prize in 2004. Nowadays, La Guardia Indígena is part of the daily life and governance in all the indigenous resguardos in Cauca.


Different images of the Guardia Indigena, at the ACIN congress, and in Toribio. The Guardia is part of the Nasa and indigenous governance in Cauca region and it is a fundamental body of territorial and social control. La Guardia is voluntary, open to both men and women, and constitutes a fundamental element of Indigenous identity for Nasa and other indigenous people in Cauca region.

Needless to say, the indigenous organizations, CRIC and ACIN, were among the strongest supporters of the Peace process, and jointly advocated for the inclusion of an ‘Ethnic Chapter’ into the Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC-EP.

In the past few months, these movements have been re-organizing in order to respond to the new challenges arising in the Post-Agreement phase, as well as withof the current conjuncture.

I have been particularly lucky during my stay in Cauca, as I had the chance to witness the two major congresses – each one happening only once in several years – in which the Nasa and other indigenous people living in the Cauca region discuss their major problems and proposals for the next period, and they also elect their new authorities.


The trip to the XV CRIC Congress in Rio Blanco Sotará has been an incredible experience and adventure!

Images from the XV CRIC Congress in Rio Blanco, Cauca (June, 25th-30th, 2017).


A banner at the XV CRIC congress, translated: “As millenary people we want peace with social justice”.


Peace is a process that implies a truthful respect of differences. If development is pursued in the name of peace, it cannot be attained at the expenses of others’ wellbeing, health and balance with the environment. If contemporary Colombia really wants to “walk the word”[19] of Peace – as Nasa people would say – Colombians should also try to understand and live with other cultures that have been marginalized in the last five hundred years, and particularly during the recent civil war. The challenge is pursuing ‘unity’ inside and in spite of differences, and in the full respect of the territory, as the CRIC’s motto states.

At the end, we all are sons and daughters of the Mother Earth.

La palabra sin acción es vacía. La acción sin la palabra es ciega.
La palabra y la acción fuera del espíritu de la comunidad es la muerte”

-Pensamiento Nasa

“Word without action is empty. Action without word is blind.
Word and action out of the spirit of the community is death.”

-Nasa Traditional Wisdom


The future of Toribio: children in traditional dresses, in a public fair in town


Minga means ‘community work’ all over the Andes, but this word is used by Nasa people also to refer to social, civic and political events organized by their community, as the historical one in this postcard.



I am sincerely and profoundly thankful to the Rotary Foundation and the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center, who fully trusted me and endowed me the funds and the support to undertake the independent exploratory research project in Colombia and in the Cauca region. In this project, I am exploring the interconnections, collaborations and tensions between the local indigenous movements and the Human Rights institutions working in the Cauca region in the present conjuncture. I also would like to thank the Department of Anthropology of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I found an encouraging and supportive environment for implementing this ethnographic fieldwork, as well as other academic projects and endeavors. A special thank you goes to the Colombian people and institutions that are making this AFE/research possible and also an incredibly rewarding experience: in particular, I would like to thank the Universidad del Valle, that opened the doors to my project proposal, and the friends from the Universidad del Cauca with whom I had the chance to exchange important moments and information. Last, but not least, I would like to thank the indigenous and Nasa people and traditional authorities from CRIC, ACIN and different resguardos, who shared with me important stories and details about their lives, their dreams and their never-ending struggle for autonomy and peace in their ancestral territory.

Photo Credits: Francesca Sorbara

La Chiva, traditional bus, at the ACIN Cogress in Toez.


[1] The complete text of the Peace agreements can be found here: http://www.acuerdodepaz.gov.co/

[2] 1a Minga Internacional para la Paz, el Buen Vivir y la no Violencia: https://encuentrobuenvivir.wordpress.com/

[3] On this issue, see this interesting report, in English: http://www.forestpeoples.org/sites/fpp/files/publication/2016/03/pushing-peace-colombia.pdf

[4] Interesting article in Spanish: http://lasillavacia.com/historia/el-impacto-ambiental-de-la-salida-de-las-farc-61592

[5] A very recent article on this issue, in Spanish, can be found at:  http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/medio-ambiente/pijao-y-arbelaez-dijeron-no-la-explotacion-minera-y-de-hidrocarburos-articulo-702257

[6] Inter-American Development Bank.

[7] http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/proceso-de-paz/se-inicia-fondo-colombia-en-paz-82520

[8] The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. For the work of UN OHCHR in Colombia, see the following links, in Spanish: http://www.hchr.org.co/nuestrotrabajo/2013.php3;


[9] http://www.hchr.org.co/documentoseinformes/informes/altocomisionado/informes.php3?cat=11. Please, see also this link in English: https://pbicolombia.org/2017/05/09/6519/

[10] http://www.elpais.com.co/colombia/registran-156-asesinatos-de-lideres-sociales-en-colombia-en-los-ultimos-14-meses.html

[11] Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca. In English: Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca. http://www.cric-colombia.org/

[12] http://www.semana.com/opinion/articulo/prevenir-el-asesinato-de-defensores-de-derechos-humanos/530592

[13] There are between 140.000 and 160.000 Nasa indigenous people in Colombia, mostly living in Cauca region. They are organized in two main organizations: CRIC and ACIN.

[14] Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca. In English: Association of Indigenous councils of Northern Cauca. https://nasaacin.org/

[15] Toribio is a small town of around 30.000 inhabitants – 95% of which indigenous Nasa people – in the mountains of the Macizo Colombiano, in the South West of Colombia, in a department called Cauca.

[16] https://www.radionacional.co/especial-paz/resistencia-pacifica-del-pueblo-nasa

[17] http://www.proyectonasa.org/, website in Spanish.

[18]La Unidad en Defensa del Territorio, la Vida y la Autonomía de los pueblos indígenas”, in Spanish.

[19] “Caminar la palabra”, is the expression in Spanish.








Patrick Bwire – AFE Blog – Kenya National Land Commission , Nairobi, Kenya

WHERE I DRAW MY INSPIRATION FOR PEACE BUILDING                                                             

Rotary, through the Peace Fellowship Programme, has granted me a great opportunity to contribute to peace in the world. It has enabled me to plant seeds of peace today. I am confident that tomorrow, the plants will bear fruit. And that the fruits of peace will multiply, be harvested and enjoyed in the world. – Patrick Bwire

Born in a conflict prone environment, witnessing societies torn apart by conflict, and having worked in war-torn areas for over 12 years now, peace is the most precious wish I keep dreaming for.

With a passion for peace, I have dedicated my life to pursue this dream.

I have devoted my energy and skills towards my mission; To Aspire, Inspire and Conspire for Peace and Development.

I have chosen to keep dreaming. And dream big.

I look forward with hope, to that day when I will wake up to see my vision realized – a world where peace prevails and sustainable development is guaranteed.



Surely, from childhood, I have had an inner-passion for building peace.

But, I didn’t have adequate building tools and skills.

Rotary bridged the gap.

With kind support from Rotary, I was granted the opportunity to pursue my dream – as a Peace Fellow.

Today, I am confident and able to build more and better pieces of peace.

The chance to engage with various Rotary Family members, has been a great honor to me, towards my dream. Lessons and inspirations from them, have kept renewing my energy for peace.

People like Mary and Art Kamm (my Rotary Host Family) have always cheered me on.

Others like Susan Grossman and Maxim Schrogin (from my sponsor District 5160) have kept motivating me toward my dream.

Some like Susan Carroll and Amy Cole (Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center) have always guided us in the chase for our dreams.

Those like Bart Cleary (Oxford Rotary Club) have inspired us to believe that surely, we have what it takes to realize our dreams one day.

And always, I am happy to add my contribution to that of Rotary and other Peace Fellows with whom I share a common dream.



Point to any area in Africa, and indeed many other areas in the world – soon, you will realize there is a land conflict.

The land question in Africa is one of the most complex and difficult questions to answer.

Land, especially in Africa, is increasingly becoming the biggest driver of conflict.

Yet, it seems this trend is not about to reverse.



Land constitutes the most critical resource for livelihood and survival.

The population is rapidly growing – the land is static.

In Africa, more than 60 percent of people and more than 80 percent in some countries derive their livelihood directly from land – yet landlessness in increasing.

In Africa, land is more than just an economic resource. It carries critical social, spiritual and cultural attachments – thereby attracting heightened land fights and revenges.

To an ordinary person, land literally means life.

The historical injustices, colonial legacy, weak land governance systems, just add layers of complexity.

The effects of climate change and its associated stress on land, make a bad situation worse.

Land is a determinant for virtually every sector of development.

But land conflicts remain a fundamental obstacle to the peace and development we are seeking.

Future peace is therefore highly dependent on our ability to manage, resolve and prevent land conflicts.

True, the land question remains a difficult question to answer, but we cannot afford to sit and do nothing.



In search for answers for peace and to the land question, I sought to have my Applied Field Experience at the National Land Commission of Kenya.

For a period of 3 months, my main aim was to learn the practical experiences of addressing land conflicts and promoting peace.

With a mandate of researching and providing land policy recommendations to the government, the Commission was a perfect placement for me.

And with a responsibility of promoting alternative dispute resolution in addressing land disputes, the Commission fed directly into my area of passion.

The opportunity at the Commission has enabled me to learn, share and build a great network. I have learnt a lot from the Commission’s interventions, policy initiatives and research work. Personal engagements with people like my supervisor Dr. Fibian Lukalo (Head of Research and Advocacy Directorate) have offered great insight in addressing land conflicts.

During my AFE, I have drafted a journal article on “Land, Conflict and Its Impact”-  a case of Kenya, written a policy brief on “Changes in Land Use and its implication on Conflict”, reviewed/edited papers on Land and Conflict, drafted a paper on Land Conflicts in Kajiado County, and another one on “Why Alternative Dispute Resolution is Vital in Settling Land Disputes” – a case of Kenya. These assignments have enhanced my insight and understanding of the context of land conflicts, as well as policy and practical responses. I am also compiling best practices in land management and conflict prevention from Kenya, that I intend to share.

This AFE has provided me with the chance to share and apply experiences in peace building, public policy, research, and the means of addressing land conflict, among others – both drawn from my field experiences as well as skills obtained at Duke University. I also cherish the times we just made jokes and had fun, networked, shared stories about my work and that of Rotary, and even taken off time to take selfies.


Patrick Bwire with a few members of the commission staff


The AFE has also provided me with opportunities to reach out and learn from other organizations working on land issues – such as UN-HABITAT/Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) in Nairobi. I have learned more about the management of land and land conflicts, frameworks like Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM), land transparency and administration. This experience has also enhanced my mediation skills in addressing land conflicts.


UN-HABITAT/GLTN, Nairobi, Kenya


While on my AFE, I was invited by the Land and Policy Initiative – a continental initiative of the Africa Union Commission, UN-Economic Commission for Africa and the Africa Development Bank as one of the experts to validate a report on Land, Ethnicity and Conflict. This involved vital learning and sharing on addressing land issues in Africa.


Experts Group Meeting – A validation study on Land, Ethnicity and Conflict in Africa. Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia (June 13-14, 2017)


I have also had great times joining and serving with those “Serving Humanity” and sharing my experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow.


At the Rotary Club of Hurlingham – Nairobi, Kenya


Thank You


I am a Ugandan Rotary Peace Fellow pursuing my 2nd Master’s Degree of International Development Policy – with a concentration in peace building at Duke University – USA.

My sponsor is Rotary District 5160

Daniela Schermerhorn – AFE Blog – UNDP, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: A delightful journey through diversity!


14 of May 2017 was the day I arrived in Colombo, the vibrant commercial capital of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I was about to start my internship adventure working with the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, the United Nations Development Programme and the Peacebuilding Fund.

Upon arriving at the airport, I found a big Buddha statue providing welcome, and outside, the city was set to celebrate the Vesak day[1].  My heart was pounding as I was stepping into a dream, to experience life in Asia. This mystic world had always inhabited my imagination, but it is so distant from Brazil…

Observing each detail, I continued to my hotel destination, forcing my jetlagged mind to assimilate every new shape and cultural trade. After a long winter in the United States, it was delightful to feel the embracing ocean breeze.

I realized that I am on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that has a great strategic importance to the economic development and trade history of South Asia.

Joining the gentle pace of Sri Lanka and its hospitable people is a lifetime opportunity, one I am determined to explore at the max.


As a legacy of ancient kingdoms that ruled the country for centuries, followed by diverse colonial empires, Sri Lanka offers a surprisingly colorful and culturally rich journey.

Surrounded by warm golden sandy beaches, the heart of the country is a surprise with its completely different landscape. Cool mountains and natural parks host a great diversity of plants and animals, such as the majestic elephant – a national symbol.  Large paddy fields and tea plantations still provide subsistence to those inhabiting rural areas, and indescribable UNESCO world heritage sites enchant any curious soul, such as: Siguiriya, Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Pollonaruwa, Kandy, Galle and many others[2].

To face the crazy traffic of Colombo, a traditional “Tuk Tuk” ride is mandatory. What an experience! No rules seem to apply and those tiny vehicles are quite a challenge to the laws of physic. The traffic defies the leisurely pace of Sri Lanka, with noisy horns always advertising brave risky maneuvers. Nevertheless, the preserved green scenery around the city soothes the environment with beautiful parks, large cricket fields, and deep-rooted trees spreading their pleasant shade along tiny sidewalks. The city seems to have been built around its natural beauty.

People walking with flowers to decorate temples, and the sway of sarongs, saris and skirts remind me of a slower traditional and refined lifestyle striving to survive in modern times. You can also stumble upon some cows crossing the road, transporting the rural scene to the middle of the city, a clear representation of Sri Lanka’s diversity.

Another worthwhile experience is to practice yoga and meditation, which are great ways to build bridges with spirituality and peace of mind. It is helping me to raise awareness to a simple vital activity that we usually forget, which is breathing.

Complementing the magic, spices and curry give a special taste to a rich healthy menu, and wonderful teas had offered me a new meaning to this brew.

However, an attentive observer can easily identify the mixed turbulent marriage of coexistent faiths and ethnicities, and the divergent level of development and social welfare that resulted in twenty-six years of civil war (from 1993 to 2009). Yet, Sri Lanka has a high human development index (UNDP, 2016), and is managing to sustain peace for the last nine years.

According to the Global Peace Index 2017, Sri Lanka had the largest jump in rankings this year (17 positions), placed within countries on the mid peace group, showing a huge improvement in regards to the Societal Safety and Security Domains (Vision of Humanity, 2017). Thus, some questions come to my mind, such as: What makes Sri Lanka successful? The progress achieved in past years, is it sustainable? What are the threats to peace and stability on the status quo? Development is for all? How to achieve reconciliation and social reintegration of affected communities? …


The work done by the United Nations and many other international and national social actors is supporting the country to answer some of those questions, taking crucial steps towards long term progress and peace. The UN concentrates in supporting the Government to develop war affected areas and implement its reconciliation and accountability commitments to its people, a fundamental phase to allow sustainable peacebuilding.

I have had the honor to learn in practice how the UN system works to support peacebuilding. I can’t help but to thank the amazing team that received me and patiently shared their knowledge, allowing an easy adaptation to such an amazing work environment. I have been working in many different fronts, which gives me an overview of real coordination within the UN system. Specifically, with the UNDP, I am assisting the work being done to enhance capacity of the National Police Commission, as well as other relevant projects involving Gender Based Violence. With the Peacebuilding Fund, I am looking forward to join a field visit to Jaffna in mid-July, to better understand the projects and programs funded by the UN, engaging war affected communities at the local level.

Also, I had the opportunity to join a debriefing promoted by the UN MAPS Mission about Sri Lanka (Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support)[3]. And most recently I attended the Workshop “Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia”, which received the former President of Sri Lanka Madam Chandrika Kumaratunga as guest speaker, a reference in Peacebuilding and Reconciliation in South Asia. The workshop promoted productive discussions featuring “Liberal and Illiberal Transitions from Ethnic Conflict and Authoritarianism” in the context of Peacebuilding in Asia[4].

What an amazing and intense experience!


Another remarkable opportunity relates to engaging with the Rotary Club in Sri Lanka. As soon as I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by a generous and attentive community, which helped me in finding accommodation and getting settled right away. I joined events promoted by Rotary District 3220 (Sri Lanka and Maldives), where I had the opportunity to meet many Rotarians. I was also invited as a guest speaker to the Rotary Club – Colombo[5], which gave me the opportunity to talk about the Rotary Peace Fellowship, while they were in the process of choosing their candidates, and the partnership between Rotary and The Global Peace Index.

Similarly, I was invited to speak to students from the Elizabeth Moir International School[6] about being a female international Police Officer promoting peaceful ways to conflict resolution. It was such an amazing chance to break paradigms, showing the potential of women empowerment and a different perception of Community Policing to young minds growing in a socially divided society.

The Rotary community in Sri Lanka is a reference towards action in development and significant support to war affected communities. There are many ongoing programs and projects, and more partnerships with international Rotary Clubs could enhance their scope.

Once more, I am amazed with the impact Rotary has around the world, and how this powerful network is always striving to do good and promote peace.

I feel very privileged to be part of the Rotary family. Thank you all for this amazing opportunity!



Cummings, Joe et. al. (2006). Lonely Planet: Sri Lanka. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd: USA, 10th Edition.

UNDP Sri Lanka. (n.d). About Sri Lanka. Retrieved from: http://www.lk.undp.org/content

UNDP. (2016). Sri Lanka Human Development Report 2015. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users

Vision of Humanity. (2017). Global Peace Index. Retrieved from: http://visionofhumanity.org


[1] Vesak is the name used for the 2nd month in Sri Lankan traditional Moon calendar (Lunar calendar) which corresponds with the month of May in the Gregorian calendar (Solar calendar). The Buddhist community celebrate the Vesak to honor three important occasions of the life of the Buddha. It was on the full moon day in the month of Vesak that Prince Siddhartha was born, became enlightened and attained Mahaparinibbāna or nirvana-after-death. 

[2] More information about the UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka can be found at: http://whc.unesco.org
and http://www.walkerstours.com/explore-sri-lanka/attractions/unesco-world-heritage-sites.html

[3] More information about the UN MAPS can be found at: https://www.un.org/ecosoc/sites/www.un.org.ecosoc

[4] More information about the Workshop “Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia” can be found at: http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk

[5] More information about the Rotary Club Colombo can be found at: http://www.rotarycolombo.org/

[6] More information about Elizabeth Moir International School can be found at: http://elizabethmoirschool.com/


Hayley Welgus – AFE Blog – Save the Children, Washington DC, USA & Camp-Perrin, Haiti

The right to life

Having dedicated my entire career to issues related to gender and rights, choosing to embark on a Master of Public Health was a plan that came slightly out of left field in some ways. While I had never given much specific thought to vaccines or cancer screening, I have always cared immensely about people and the inequities that persist between different kinds of people – particularly those inequities that are based on gender. UNC’s department of Health Behavior has been providing me with an exceptional opportunity to interrogate, through the lens of systemic oppression and injustice, the questions of why some groups of people live while others die.

It is by no coincidence that the divisions that persist along the lines of class, race, ethnicity, immigration status, (dis)ability, sexuality, and gender result in those with the lowest privileges shouldering the majority of society’s burden of illness, disease, and physical and mental harm.

When certain groups of people systematically get sick because of who they are and where they are born it is not only a public health concern, it is an issue of human rights. Environmental, social, and policy conditions have real and serious implications on who enjoys the most basic of human rights: the right to life.


Photo by Maria Tsolka

Reproductive health

When women are denied the opportunity and resources to maintain control over their own bodies, the health consequences can be significant. Access to modern family planning methods and an understanding of how to properly use them enable women to control the number of children they have, when they have them, and how long to wait between pregnancies. Research shows that mothers whose pregnancies are spaced fewer than three years apart are at higher risk of miscarriage, seeking an unsafe abortion, and even dying during childbirth[1]. In fact, one in three maternal deaths globally could be prevented by ensuring access to family planning[2]. For the children born of inadequately spaced pregnancies, they are more likely to be born premature, have low birth weight, or to be stillborn.

Reproductive health is, therefore, a life-saving intervention for both women and children. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in situations of conflict and natural disaster.



Photo by Maria Tsolka

The impact of crisis

When disaster strikes – be it through the forces of people, politics, or nature – people’s lives are often disrupted. Displacement, insecure living conditions, separation of families, and increased violence are common, and often result in lack of access to public infrastructure including health services. Couples can find themselves unable to obtain contraception, and women experience pregnancies they didn’t necessarily intend. Even intended pregnancies become more dangerous when adequate healthcare is absent.

It is also well-documented that sexual violence increases during situations of conflict and crisis[3]. There are many reasons for this, primarily related to abuse of power, impunity that comes when legal safeguards are disrupted, and environmental factors such as unsafe routes for necessary daily tasks such as water collection, and overcrowded camps. These increases in sexual and gender-based violence result in the need for acute responses to assist with unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, contraction of STIs or HIV, and physical injuries.

Whether they come about through consensual means or through rape, the bottom line is that pregnancies do not disappear during emergencies. Failure to recognize this means that women die unnecessarily due to complications associated with miscarriage, unsafe abortion, and childbirth. While ensuring access to food and shelter might, understandably, be deemed a priority in situations of crisis, ignoring the specific health needs of women under these circumstances costs lives.


Photo by Maria Tsolka

My AFE: Reproductive Health in Emergencies at Save the Children

This summer I have been working with Save the Children USA’s Reproductive Health in Emergencies program, based in their headquarters in Washington, DC. This program operates in both protracted and acute emergency contexts to integrate reproductive health into humanitarian health responses, ensuring that women are respected and supported to make reproductive choices. Focusing on family planning and post-abortion care services, Save the Children provides direct medical services, supports clinical training to local service providers, supplies health facilities with medical commodities, and invests in strengthening the systems necessary to deliver effective reproductive health responses.



Unmet reproductive health needs in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

In October last year, Hurricane Matthew caused devastation to numerous parts of the Western Atlantic. Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, has been severely impacted. Many of the worst-affected locations are remote and hard to reach, and more than half the population does not have access to health services. According to UNFPA, more than a quarter of those affected by the hurricane are women of childbearing age, who require quality health services. Haiti’s maternal mortality ratio is also the worst of any country in the Caribbean or Latin America.

My role: What can the numbers tell us?

For my AFE, I am supporting Save the Children’s reproductive health response in Haiti, which is enabling 5 health facilities in Sud and Grand’Anse departments to provide family planning and post-abortion care services. Fundamental to evidence-based program implementation is the collection and analysis of quality program data, as well as an understanding of what these numbers can tell us. The ability to spot trends and make sense of the reasons that are driving them can help service providers to do their jobs better, and can help program managers to figure out if the right women are getting the right services, and whether or not the services are helping them.

As such, the main focus of my AFE has been on preparing a training program on monitoring and evaluation for the program team in Haiti. The aim is that this package will give them better tools to track their program and make greater use of the data they obtain for meaningful decision-making in their daily work. I will be heading to the field soon to deliver this training, but also to spend time on the ground to observe how the partner health facilities are currently keeping track of their clients, and how Save the Children’s data collection can be most conveniently integrated. I will also help get staff set up with more efficient data systems such as using tablets, and familiarize the team with the program database. I am building in time to learn from the Haitian staff about what makes the most sense in their specific context, and to do some creative thinking around establishing systems of best practice for data utilization. I will be working closely with the Haitian program coordinator to incorporate her team’s perspectives into the approaches developed by headquarters.

Based on key learnings from Haiti and other program locations, I will make recommendations to Save the Children on guidelines for optimal monitoring, evaluation, and data use.

Finally, in addition to supporting the Haiti program, I am looking at evidence-based approaches to integrating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) responses with reproductive health programs. From this research, I am developing guidelines and making recommendations to Save the Children USA that will help various country teams to take practical steps to respond to SGBV in their work.

This AFE has, in many ways, provided the perfect opportunity to apply my learning from both my public health program and the Rotary Peace Fellowship curriculum, while also enabling me to gain experience within a new topic area (reproductive health) that is still firmly rooted in my wheel house of gender and human rights. I am very appreciative of the wonderful professional development and learning opportunity that Save the Children is currently giving me, and I extend heartfelt thanks to the generous Rotarians whose support has made it possible.



[1] World Health Organization. (2005). Report of a WHO Technical Consultation on Birth Spacing Geneva, Switzerland, 13–15 June 2005. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/birth_spacing05/en/

[2] Ahmed, S, Li Q, Liu L, Tsui AO. (2012). Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: an analysis of 172 countries. Lancet.

[3] Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2015). Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action, 1–366. Retrieved from http://gbvguidelines.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-IASC-Gender-based-Violence-Guidelines_lo-res.pdf

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