Missionary Influences: A Personal Tale

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Missionary Influences: A Personal Tale by Dr. Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. focuses on missionaries, and how they influenced the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in New York. This is a very human story–with sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic–vignettes of interaction with missionaries. Dr. Kevin Cahill, M.D., cites a few individuals–out of many thousands–who had a direct and practical influence on the global courses offered by the IIHA.

Read Missionary Influences: A Personal Tale


IDHA and MIHA Graduates Celebrate Achievement and Look Ahead to Future Humanitarian Endeavors

The Graduating Class of IDHA 52

The Graduating Class of IDHA 52

New York — On Friday, Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs concluded their intensive month-long International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance program with a commencement presided over by the University President, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. and featuring the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, H.E. Geraldine Byrne Nason. In the same ceremony, the Institute also celebrated the successful achievement of two graduates in their Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA).

Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, H.E. Geraldine Byrne Nanson speaking to the IHDA graduating class.

Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, H.E. Geraldine Byrne Nanson speaking to the IHDA graduating class.

Speaking to the graduates in the Commencement Address, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations H.E. Geraldine Byrne Nason stressed the importance of humanitarian action in what she called an unprecedented period of international strife.

“Those of you in front of me, graduates of humanitarian studies, you are doers, not sayers. Many of you, I know, have already changed, saved lives in the field in conditions that actually shame the rest of us,” said Ambassador Byrne Nason.

“During the length of this course, 1.16 million people have been displaced. John Ging, the director of operations at OCHA, reminded us that humanitarian problems are not solved by humanitarians, but rather they are solved by politicians with political solutions. The politicians are our representatives, and it is up to all of us to reach out,” added IDHA 52 Course Director Mark Little, M.D.

IDHA 52 graduates hail from 24 countries such as Italy, Jordan, Nepal, the Philippines, and Yemen. Following graduation, they will return to their posts coordinating education projects for refugees; serving as medical responders during natural disasters; or creating communications campaigns to galvanize humanitarian funding.

Peter Ophoff and Katarzyna Laskowski smiling after receiving their Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA).

Peter Ophoff and Katarzyna Laskowski smiling after receiving their Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA).

“You’ve been equipped with what former UNSG Peter Hansen called, ‘a rich mix of experience to fuel reflection and learning and theory and the praxis of humanitarian affairs,” said Ambassador Byrne Nason as she encouraged them all to continue “shining a light in dark places.”
IDHA 52 Graduate Vena Semaitre shaking the hands of Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. at IDHA Graduation.

IDHA 52 Graduate Vena Semaitre shaking the hands of Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. at IDHA Graduation.

University Professor and Director Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. also presented two IDHA Honoris Causae at the ceremony.

The first was presented to Mrs. Albert J. Marchetti, the late Chief Financial Officer of the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation, as a symbol of our thanks and respect for him. Ambassador Byrne Nason was awarded the second degree, recognized for her dedication to humanitarian causes around the world and to the mission of the IIHA.

Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director, welcomed the new graduates to the IDHA family — more than 3,000 alumni from 140 countries.

“Everything starts from this point,” he said, “we hope you keep us in your heart as we keep you in ours.”
University Professor and Director Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. speaking to IDHA graduates.

University Professor and Director Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. speaking to IDHA graduates.

The next IDHA course will take place in Geneva, Switzerland from October 28 to November 24, 2018. Learn more about how to enroll here.

Press Contact

Angela Wells
IIHA Communications Officer

Learn More


Humanitarians and Designers Imagine a New Future at the First Design for Humanity Summit in New York City

The IIHA-IOM Design for Humanity Summit brought together the design and humanitarian communities at Fordham University (Jordan Kleinman).

New York — The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) launched the Design for Humanity Initiative at the first Design for Humanity Summit at Fordham University in New York City on June 22, 2018.

In partnership with The UN Migration Agency (IOM), the Summit explored how the intersection between design and humanitarian action can compel a more dignified, inclusive, and sustainable humanitarian response.

More than 40 presenters from the design, humanitarian and academic communities as well as the private sector sat on panel discussions or delivered breakout sessions. An overflowing audience of more than 300 people were in attendance, some of whom had traveled from as far away as Europe and Asia to participate.

Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director, delivers the Opening Remarks at the Design for Humanity Summit (Jordan Kleinman).
“Design for Humanity is one of five key research areas for the Institute and we believe it will have an impact on current thinking and practices of the humanitarian sector. We seek to galvanize the diverse expertise of those working at this intersection through a multi-year Design for Humanity Initiative and Lab which will include future events, research, publications, and collaborative projects,” said Brendan Cahill, the Executive Director of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs.

The Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, commended the Irish Mission’s partnership with the IIHA in her welcoming remarks.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, delivers the Welcoming Remarks (Jordan Kleinman).
Ireland’s partnership with Fordham is a natural one. Ireland’s own harrowing history of famine, mass migration and our struggle for independence and peace form the cornerstone of our identity. We believe nothing is wholly foreign or entirely domestic. The humanitarian response is at the heart of that instinct and informs the way we work every day at the UN. We are determined to leave no one behind, reaching the furthest behind first,” said the Ambassador.

The Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN, the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation, and IOM served as critical supporters for the Design for Humanity Summit.

Ashraf El Nour, Director of the International Organization for Migration’s Office to the United Nations in New York, delivers the Opening Remarks (Jordan Kleinman)
We see great potential in deepening the nexus between the commitment and ethical framework of humanitarian actors with emphasis on innovation and participatory approaches to design and contextualization,” said Ashraf El Nour, Director of the IOM office in New York in his opening remarks at the Design for Humanity Summit.
Randy Fiser, CEO of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), delivers the Keynote Speech at the Design for Humanity Summit at Fordham University on June 22, 2018 (Jordan Kleinman)

In his keynote address, Randy Fiser, CEO of the American Society of Interior Design, spoke to the power of holistic solutions and the partnerships between the design and humanitarian communities:

“(Designers work) collectively with the community that we are serving and hold the things they need and iterating back into bringing solutions. That process coming together with what the humanitarian community does is an amazing and powerful opportunity that we are all about to experience today,” he said.

Panelists and breakout session leaders were comprised of creative humanitarian and design practitioners from Airbnb, the Airbel Center at the International Rescue Committee, ARCHIVE Global, ART WORKS Projects for Human Rights, Asylee Designs, Boston Society of Landscape Architects, de.MO Design, Ennead Lab, Google, the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, Habitat for Humanity International, Ideation Worldwide, IDEO.org, Irish Aid, MASS Design Group, the Museum of Modern Art, Prudential, the UN Migration Agency, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Participants of the Design for Humanity Summit engage in panel discussions and breakout sessions (Jordan Kleinman).

They shared the stage with researchers from leading academic institutions such as Fordham University, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Portland State University Center for Public Interest Design, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya School of Architecture, and Université de Montréal.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs believes the way humanitarian programs are designed at the onset lay the groundwork for the quality of life experienced by people affected by crises for years to come. The Design for Humanity Summit sought to bring together innovative designers and humanitarians in order to envision a better future.
Participants of the Design for Humanity Summit engage in panel discussions and breakout sessions (Jordan Kleinman).

Placing dignified and human-centered design at the heart of humanitarian action is, therefore, an essential goal of Design for Humanity, which will continue in the years to come.

The first step will be a Design for Humanity Yearbook and a series of online stories and content that will chronicle the diverse perspectives presented at the Summit. The second Design for Humanity Summit will take place in June 2019. In addition, the IIHA and IOM plan to engage in deeper research projects involving relevant stakeholders in New York and in the field in pursuit of innovative humanitarian design projects around the world.

The Design for Humanity Summit was made possible by the support of the UN Migration Agency, Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations, the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation and Fordham University. Community partners included the American Society of Interior Designers, ART WORKS Projects for Human Rights, and InterAction

Check out the Design for Humanity Summit Photo Album.


Angela Wells
IIHA Communications Officer
Co-Curator of the Design for Humanity Summit

Alberto Preato
IOM Program Manager
IIHA Humanitarian Design Research Fellow


Towards a Humanitarian Design Charter

New York — Two days following World Refugee Day, designers and humanitarians will convene in New York City to explore how both sectors can incorporate human-centered design principles in their responses to humanitarian crises that cause displacement.

The first Design for Humanity Summit will be held on June 22 and is co-hosted by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Migration Agency (IOM). It is a starting point for the IIHA-IOM Design for Humanity Initiative — a multi-year project that aims to direct humanitarian response in a more dignified, inclusive, and sustainable direction.

This initiative has been led by the IIHA’s Visiting Humanitarian Design Fellow and IOM Program Manager, Alberto Preato, and Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer and Co-curator of the Summit.

Alberto brings years of experience incorporating his perspective and skills as an architect as well as a humanitarian practitioner in Haiti, Vanuatu, Colombia, Mozambique, Morocco, Nicaragua, and Niger.

Alberto Preato, IIHA Humanitarian Design Fellow and IOM Program Manager, during the IOM -UNDAC Mass Evacuation in Natural Disaster (MEND) preparedness mission in Vanuatu.

Alberto Preato, IIHA Humanitarian Design Fellow and IOM Program Manager, during the IOM -UNDAC Mass Evacuation in Natural Disaster (MEND) preparedness mission in Vanuatu.

Angela Wells interviewed Alberto in New York today to talk about the evolution and goals of the Design for Humanity Initiative and how the creativity of designers can inspire the future of humanitarian action.

How did the idea for this initiative come to be?

For a few years, the IIHA had been discussing with designers, academics and humanitarian workers about starting an initiative that looks more critically at the humanitarian sector through the lens of design — like housing, health, graphic design, communications, etc.

The director Brendan Cahill had this vision for a collaborative approach that could bring in so much of the expertise that could be harnessed for research or publications or events or pilot projects. Humanitarian design is a research area that complements or even strongly encompasses the other research areas of the Institute like innovation, urban crises or education.

IOM has been a partner of the IIHA for a few years and so Brendan approached me after I took the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance to see if I would spearhead this initiative on behalf of IOM.

It was a natural fit given IOM’s strong background in shelter and camp management in humanitarian contexts all over the world. IOM has really embraced this initiative and we’re excited to see how we can take it further and further.
IOM Incremental housing units and community infrastructures in Port au Prince, Haiti (Alberto Preato / IOM)

IOM Incremental housing units and community infrastructures in Port au Prince, Haiti (Alberto Preato / IOM)

How did you personally transition your career in architecture and design to humanitarian response?

Since I was a student of architecture in Venice, I have always been fascinated by how design could answer a community’s needs. I was convinced that architecture, urban planning, and design are powerful tools to transform society and to reinvent a different future. My interest began in housing rights and housing development, but these issues became much more systemic and far-reaching as I experienced the reality abroad, first in Spain, in Morocco, then in Mozambique, Central America and Haiti.

As a practitioner, I experienced the tension between the way humanitarian action is conceived, the urgency to provide immediate solutions to very urgent needs, and the need for a more long term solution that can at times be neglected from the typical humanitarian intervention.

What challenges does this tension present to the humanitarian community?

Following a crisis, both after a natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti or in the aftermath of conflict or mass persecution, as we are seeing with the Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh, the decisions made at the beginning of the humanitarian response deeply influence not only the immediate response itself but also the lives of people affected for years and years to come.

The harsh reality is that an emergency response is actually cyclical and persistent. This presents a challenge that both the humanitarian and design community can help address.

Community Members unloading food supplies and NFI kits in Mataso Island, Vanuatu (Alberto Preato / IOM)

Community Members unloading food supplies and NFI kits in Mataso Island, Vanuatu (Alberto Preato / IOM)

How do you see the design community embracing this cause?

The processes that designers use to identify problems, iterate ideas, and craft solutions can be adapted to shape a world more resilient to crises. This could be done, for example, by architects who ensure the right to adequate and sound housing in disaster-prone areas; by urban planners who conceptualize more inclusive and resilience cities alongside communities, or by humanitarians who improve access to water, educational facilities or public space in areas with high levels of displacement.

More and more design professionals around the world are declaring good design as a public right that should be accessible and available to everyone, but especially those most affected by injustices, crises, or disasters.

Reclaiming this right for humanitarian design means working within a framework of ethics, inspiring activism for social change by civil society, and educating future humanitarian and design professionals.

So what is the role of design in a humanitarian context?

If humanitarian action is grounded on the principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence, designing for humanity is the ethical and social action that goes beyond the core humanitarian mission of alleviating suffering or saving lives in the immediate.

Fundamentally, this is about having a long-term positive impact for people whose lives have been perversely disrupted. We should not only see these people as beneficiaries or victims. In every crisis I have worked, the people who are first affected are the first responders.

I saw this in Vanuatu where community members rebuilt their own shelters, prioritizing vulnerable community members who were not able to rebuild their own homes such as widows, persons with disabilities. They used local materials and locally adapted construction techniques.

The humanitarian community is there to bring in the necessary resources and expertise to respond on a mass level, but they are also responsible for including and designing alongside the community.

In the recent years, we’ve seen academia and think tanks engaging in design challenges aiming at designing solutions to the most pressing world issues. What are your thoughts about this?

I’d like to see the focus shift from the product into the process. The famous IKEA shelters or many other innovative inventions being tested in humanitarian responses may have some positive benefits, but I’m concerned that the focus on the end product has diverted our attention from systemic approaches.

To borrow the concept of lo-fab from MASS Design Group, there is a need for a local fabrication, not only in terms of materials or ideas, but also the definition of the problems we really want to solve.

Humanitarian issues and global injustice are much bigger problems than what humanitarian and design practitioners can solve. So why should we care about designing for humanity?

Today we have 68.5 million people displaced due to conflict, persecution, and natural disasters. Entire generations live in temporary conditions that become permanent. Millions of young people have never known what a sound home or a permanent school looks like. Crises can happen in a matter of seconds and then disrupt the fabric of a community for decades.

But there is no reason why people living in what we call a “protracted crisis” should not be able to experience beauty, good design, or sound and safe infrastructure. Good will is not enough, and there are plenty of examples of ‘good design’ gone terribly wrong because of a lack of time, experience, and professionalism.

IDP settlement in Diffa, Niger (IOM)

IDP settlement in Diffa, Niger (IOM)

Luckily, there are champions of this cause. I am thinking for example of the work of Raul Pantaleo with TAM associate or MASS Design Studio, who use a built-environment perspective to train and change the narrative of humanitarian and design professionals globally to find beauty where beauty is most difficult to be found, among the rubbles of an earthquake that happened yesterday or in a refugee camp where people have been living since the 1990’s.

Alleviating suffering is no longer enough, we have the duty to make a change for the better. In the preface of his most recent book “Dirty Beauty” Raul Pantaleo writes, “I donʼt know if beauty can really save the world but it can certainly make it better.”

What is your way forward?

The June 22nd Summit is the first step of a much broader initiative aiming at establishing some joint research projects, developing publications, and catalyzing similar events in other locations around the world.

We also want to develop a new “charter for humanitarian design”, or a code of conduct, inspired by creative design and rooted in humanitarian principles. We’ll start from the contributions of our impressive presenters that could guide the work of humanitarian and design professionals working in crises for years to come.

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer and Co-curator of the Design for Humanity Summit



Fordham News: IIHA Welcomes new Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow

Photo by Dana Maxson

Photo by Dana Maxson

New York —Judy Benjamin, Ph.D., is Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs’ newest Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow. Benjamin has a master’s in anthropology from Hunter College and a doctorate in anthropology from Binghamton University. Her career has centered on conflict-affected and less-developed countries, applying social science professional skills in the areas of gender, education, health, and economic development in over 30 countries worldwide.

Q: This is not your first go-around with the IIHA, correct?

A: I taught in the Institute during its first couple of years. I knew Dr. Cahill, because I had been in international work my entire career. From time to time I had visited him for my own illnesses, which were usually parasitic in nature.

Q: What have you been doing recently?

I’ve been working as an independent consultant since 2009. Prior to that, I worked for organizations such as CARE International, the International Rescue Committee, Academy for Educational Development, the United States Agency for International Development, the UN World Food Program, UNICEF, and the UN Development Programme, UNDP among others. I’ve done a lot of work looking at gender-based violence. Most of the countries that I’ve worked in have been either in conflict or post-conflict.

Q: What will you be doing for IIHA?

{I’ll be} participating in the development, management, and implementation of the Institute’s academic and training programs, along with responsibilities for teaching and coordinating the academic aspects of the Institute’s undergraduate and graduate curricula at Fordham. I’m making sure that our courses are meeting the students’ needs in this area, and also that there’s a compatibility with other programs. For our new graduate program, which we’ll be launching in the fall, I’m ensuring that we have course descriptions and professors identified to teach the courses. I’m also teaching humanitarian affairs, which is a prerequisite for some of the more advanced courses. I love to see the excitement and enthusiasm among students; they’re hungry for information.

Q: Tell us about your hands-on experience.

A: I lived for a year and a half in a refugee camp in Western Tanzania. People were fleeing genocide in Rwanda resulting in a massive movement of people into Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was a director of a HIV AIDS and reproductive health program that was funded by USAID. I lived in the camps, supervised, hired, and trained outreach educators who moved through the camps to train and educate refugees about HIV AIDS prevention. The camps kept expanding and expanding, until there were nearly 500,000 people. I originally agreed to stay for six months, but ended up remaining for a year and a half. It was quite challenging.

Q: What is the most pressing problem facing the humanitarian assistance community?

A: I’d have to say lack of sufficient funds to do what we need to do. It has also become increasingly insecure for people working in this field. I have a number of friends who have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Then there is a growing number of refugees who are internally displaced within their own borders. Their situations were initially meant to be temporary, but for some of them, the displacements have lasted for many, many years. That was certainly the case with the Afghan refugees who were settled in Pakistan. Multiple generations grew up as refugees. There’s a frustration and hopelessness among the young people in these camps.

Q: What draws you to this work?

A: I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It seems natural to want to make a tiny bit of difference. I’m not going to change the world, but if I can make the lives of other people just a little better, that’s inspiring.

This article was originally posted on the Fordham News website. Click here to read more.

Patrick Verel, Fordham News

CIHC and IIHA Launch Humanitarian Pulse


The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs are pleased to announce the launch of our new blog, The Humanitarian Pulse. The Pulse will feature news and feature stories written by our staff, faculty, and alumni about humanitarian issues of relevance to both organizations.

In the coming months, we will be focusing on stories about innovation and design for humanitarian response as well as the various complex aspects of forced migration response around the world. You can also read excerpts from our most recent book, Milestones in Humanitarian Action, which chronicles our 20-year journey educating humanitarian workers around the world.

We hope you will follow along and share with your networks.

Older Persons: A Priority to Protect

February 13, 2018, New York City - The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 proved to be one of the most devastating natural disasters of the century. For the nation’s men and women aged 65 and over, who made up nearly a quarter of its population, the disaster proved severely catastrophic. Unable to evacuate or secure shelter and under precarious health conditions, older Japanese people faced disproportionate insecurity, as reported by the Guardian.

The aftermath of the Japanese disaster brought to light the vulnerability of ageing populations affected by humanitarian crises. This unsurprising yet deeply neglected reality is one humanitarian responders struggle to address in protracted and emergency crises globally.

Around the world, older persons hold the social fabric of their communities together – especially when crisis strikes. They serve as family guardians and community leaders, advocates and teachers. They are also the first to fall through the cracks of the humanitarian safety net – with limited mobility and frail health as they struggle more than most to reach safety, rebuild their homes, and continue their lives in dignity.

While the number of older persons living in protracted or emergency crises is unknown, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has reported that by 2050 the global population of individuals over the age of sixty will more than double to comprise a quarter of the world’s population. In countries susceptible to climate change-induced disasters and conflict, older persons are sure to face greater protection risks, barriers to healthcare, and vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.

Despite this evident risk, the humanitarian infrastructure continually falters in its attempts to provide dignified response to older persons – as reported by the UN Refugee Agency. Immediately after fleeing, they are the first to be split up from their families and lose access to lifesaving medical services. As they begin to start life anew, they face age discrimination when pursuing employment opportunities, health care, and social services.

In a humanitarian sphere with competing interests and rapidly evolving crises, older populations are simply not a top priority. This leaves a huge gap in assistance and creates an environment where older persons struggle to prevail.

Furthermore, in urban areas, where more than 80 percent of the world’s displaced reside, older persons are extremely marginalized and unable to access basic services. Whether the hurricane in San Juan or conflict in Mosul, cities are increasingly becoming hubs for disaster and their older and displaced residents the most affected.

“The elderly are largely invisible in disaster preparedness programs, rescue efforts and reconstruction projects. Too often, they are the forgotten ones whom no one bothers to inform, check on or assist….Older persons are particularly at risk if they live in sub-standard or overcrowded housing, in shantytowns, or in areas with badly designed infrastructure, poor transport systems, or ineffective local leadership,” wrote Ann Pawliczko, PhD IIHA Research Fellow on Ageing in a soon-to-be-published book on urban disasters.

Fortunately, the international community has made a concerted effort to address the plight of older persons affected by crises.  In 2002, the United Nations adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing which urged humanitarian responses to include older persons in project design and assessment, and to protect older individuals, especially women, from exploitation and abuse.

Fifteen years later, significant strides have been made. Non-governmental  organizations like HelpAge International and the International Rescue Committee promote the inclusion and protection of older persons amidst global crises and displacement.The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals call on the international community to leave no older person behind. Nation states have convened to form bodies like the Group of Friends of Older Persons to address their rights and needs on the UN stage.

Humanitarians are also beginning to recognize the wisdom and leadership that older persons contribute to their communities in the aftermath of crises.

“Older people are more likely to be aid givers than receivers. Their assistance to others means that supporting older people – with healthcare or income generation activities, skills training or credit – supports their families and communities. Little attention has yet been paid to how older people can be helped to fulfill such valuable roles in rebuilding communities, and recognition of their special contribution should not lead to devolution of yet more responsibilities without a corresponding increase in support,” reports HelpAge International.

Looking forward, HelpAge and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction are pursuing and promoting fourteen targets that seek to improve humanitarian response to older persons. These include involving older persons in the development of disaster and climate risk assessment, increasing access to early warning signals and information for older persons, and ensuring direct support to older persons including income support and disaster insurance.

These solutions and others will be more deeply explored by representatives of the  Permanent Mission of Japan, UNHCR, IRC, and independent experts and Fordham University at an upcoming side event of the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development: “Humanitarian Action for Older Persons: Fifteen Years After The Madrid Plan” taking place at the United Nations Secretariat next week.

The event is being convened by the Center for International Health and Cooperation and the Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, the Group of Friends of Older Persons (GoFOP), the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications  Officer
Noel Langan, IIHA Communications Intern

Humanitarian Action for Older Persons: Fifteen Years After The Madrid Plan

"Humanitarian Action for Older Persons: Fifteen Years After The Madrid Plan" 

Side Event of the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development

February 7, 2018 from 1:15 pm – 2:30 pm

United Nations Secretariat Building, Conference Room 7

The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, emphasizes the importance of caring for older persons affected by emergencies who carry specific vulnerabilities. The Madrid Plan urges humanitarian actors to not only incorporate the needs of older persons into humanitarian programming and guidelines, but also to actively ensure their fundamental rights to equal access to food, shelter, and health care.

Fifteen years on and the world is experiencing unprecedented levels of forced migration and displacement due to humanitarian disasters. One of the more seriously affected groups in times of crises are older persons, those aged 60 years and over, as well as those who rely on their care. The protection of older persons affected by crises underscored in the Madrid Plan is crucial to offering dignified humanitarian assistance to communities.

This event will discuss the challenges and best practices for caring for older persons in the humanitarian response infrastructure. By drawing on the experiences of humanitarian practitioners, policy experts, and refugees, the event will delve into various aspects of humanitarian planning and response by bringing in the latest experience, data and contributions of older refugees and displaced persons in the context of current crises.


Welcome and Introductions:

  • Ann Pawliczko, PhD, Research Fellow, Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs, Fordham University
  • H.E. Ambassador Rubén Hasbún, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of El Salvador
    to the United Nations, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons


  • Rosemary Lane, Focal Point on Ageing, Division for Social Policy and Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs


  • H.E. Ambassador Toshiya Hoshino, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations: Experiences and Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 and Other Natural Disasters

  • Andrew Painter, Senior Policy Advisor (Human Rights/Protection), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Addressing the Needs of Older Displaced Persons

  • Sandra Vines, Director for Resettlement, International Rescue Committee: The Needs of Elderly Refugees in the Resettlement Process

  • Sylvia Beales, Consultant on Ageing and ‘Inclusive Social Development’:  Overview of Current Frameworks to Ensure Inclusion

Concluding Remarks: Rene Desiderio, PhD, Research Fellow, Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs, Fordham University

Convened by the Center for International Health and Cooperation and the Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, the Group of Friends of Older Persons (GoFOP), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Milestones Testimony: Florian Razesberger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milestones Testimony: Ferdinand von Hasburg-Lothringen

This is an abbreviated version of Ferdinand von Hasburg-Lothringen’s testimony featured in Milestones in Humanitarian Action, available for purchase on the Fordham Press website.

Many of us need a core set of values in order to anchor our lives and ourselves. I, for one, feel this profound need as I continue to provide humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa, after two decades of professional experience in Sudan and South Sudan. My experience has allowed me to witness how human beings, when faced with enormous, apparently insurmountable challenges, continue to seek a way forward; we refer to this strength of the human spirit as “resilience.” Above all, I believe that my time in the Horn of Africa has taught me to reflect upon and fairly evaluate the needs of stakeholders, partners, and recipients. Three keywords have become central to my work and my life: community, reflection, and change. These words form the very basis of our humanity, and are a call to the future and to action.

“I will call you for one minute.” No seven words have held more meaning for me than these; I first heard them on the evening of July 28, 2016, through the crackle of a poor telephone connection. Years earlier, I had met Dr. Kevin Cahill in his office on the edge of Central Park. I had come for a thorough medical examination, and as he looked me over, he asked me about my work in South Sudan. Over the course of our conversation, he revealed himself as a consummate thinker, storyteller, and professional, steeped in humility, warmth and humor.

Now, as I crawled on hands and knees across the floor of an office building, ducking under the windows to avoid a storm of bullets outside — a barrage that, I later learned, killed over 250 people — Kevin’s seven words were my lifeline to someone who cared, someone who knew what I had experienced. Over the course of those four terrifying days, his daily “one minute” phone call reassured me that despite the distance, despite terrible situations and impossible commitments, human beings will persist in reaching out, in building connections, in recognizing the extraordinary gifts of others. This persistence is, in my view, the antidote to cynicism, impatience, and selfishness.

Kevin’s next call found me on the floor of the Comboni Missionaries in Juba, trapped by a second volley of gunfire. I was with half a dozen other international missionaries, and all of us lay facedown on the floor as more machine gun rounds, tank shells, and rocket-propelled grenades crisscrossed our compound–this time apparently in a celebratory mood. The minute was an hour, his words–whatever he said, I cannot recall now–were comfort and solidarity, filling my bruised and bewildered body with hope. Even after he ended the call, that “one minute” continue to comfort me, to reassure me that I was alive and loved, no matter what happened tomorrow. Kevin’s call, and the calls I received from his son, Brendan, and from family and friends, taught me that there is no replacement for love, support, and true friendship.

In the winter of 2002, I returned to my hometown, Geneva, as a stranger in a familiar land. I had entered into a new phase of my life: still lacking in confidence in my skills as a humanitarian, and shaken by the raw violence I saw while stationed in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, I arrived at IDHA 9. Unbeknownst to me, this would become a defining moment in my life. Not only did I walk away from the IDHA with the professional skills and tools I needed, but I also formed friendships with people who spoke the “aid language,” and who approached their work with spirit, enthusiasm, and genuine curiosity. Surrounded by so many like-minded people, I thought I had joined the IDHA in an exceptionally vintage year, or else the course had filled some niche in the humanitarian community. Friendships bloomed and strategies developed–bonds that, in many cases, remain unbreakable, connecting us across borders and oceans, coming together and forming actions, studies, shared analyses, and reunions in the most unexpected of places.

There was a deep-seated sense of respect and community, reinforced through the kind of honest, open reflection that inspires confidence, in spite of our faults and fears of inadequacy. I thought perhaps I had lucked into IDHA 9, but as I pursued the MIHA–attending courses in Barcelona, New York, and Berlin, all at times of my choosing, thanks to the flexibility of the program–I came to realize that Fordham and the IIHA had tapped into a critical need in the humanitarian world, and had met that need head-on, with innovation and first-call staff and support teams. When I arrived in Geneva for IDHA 9, I immediately felt at home.For many of us, it was the first time we had been afforded a chance to think about our personal experiences within the international framework, and to consider the experiences of others support and encouragement–an educational approach that held value for both students and tutors.

As an IDHA alumnus, I have a responsibility to develop this new philosophy and answer the hard questions. I now have the ability to look honestly at my life and my choices; to avoid the generalizations, the preferred political narratives, and the simplifications that stymy our efforts. The IDHA, above all, allows its students to think creatively in a field that adheres to tradition and often refuses change. In the end, the hours of reading and reflection created a space in my mind where I can question and challenge, and find myself anew.

Ferdinand von Hasburg-Lothringen