IDHA45 Begins

This past Monday, the IIHA welcomed 50 students from 29 different nations to Fordham University for the 45th International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA). The course kicked off with opening remarks by Brendan Cahill (IDHA 9), IIHA Executive Director, an introduction by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., University Professor and President of the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC), and a welcome by Eva Badowska, Ph.D., Interim Dean, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS), Fordham University. Larry Hollingworth, C.B.E., IIHA Humanitarian Programs Director, then delivered the first lecture of the course, focusing on what is perhaps the most integral consideration in humanitarian efforts: vulnerability. Hollingworth's pronouncement of the word was not intended to be rhetorical, but rather emotive: to elicit a response from the students in order to challenge common understanding and complacency surrounding the term. Who are the vulnerable? "Women." "Children." "Elderly." The list soon grew to encompass many other groups such as the sick, the disabled, the bereaved, the new-born, and minority groups. For some time, Hollingworth focused on the continued security challenges facing women. In many situations, the issue of rape "faces women every day," exclaimed Hollingworth. "Are we just turning a blind eye? Is there nothing we can do? [...] Put yourself in the shoes of these women and ask yourself: what are we going to do about it? What can we do about it? [...] We can't just let it go on."

During his lecture, Hollingworth lingered on one particular slide highlighting the age demographic and duration of stay in refugee camps. 44.6% of refugees are under fourteen years of age, and the average refugee will spend 17 years in a camp. These staggering numbers were accompanied by an even more disparaging pronouncement: the causes of almost half of all child deaths are in some way preventable. "It's a terrible indictment of us," Hollingworth proclaimed. "Look into their eyes," he asked the audience, pointing to a picture of two displaced children."Do you think they're going to forget the war? Do you think they're going to forget what they've seen?" The question highlights the theme of the discussion. The concept of vulnerability is complex and often difficult to define, but at its core, vulnerability is about people. Affected individuals and communities must always remain at the center of humanitarian response, despite the somewhat disorienting figures and statistics. "What can we do when we leave this classroom that will change those numbers?" asked Hollingworth. In many ways, the various answers can also serve as reasons for each student's attendance on the course.

Hollingworth was followed by Peter Hansen, IIHA Diplomat-in-Residence and CIHC Board Member, who spoke about the Global Perspective of Humanitarian Assistance. Hansen maintained a strong emphasis on history throughout the lecture, highlighting key themes and tensions in the development of ethics and humanitarian aid. He explored the humanitarian instinct: that "you are obliged, ethically, to help any human being who you see in distress," and analyzed such responsibility both in terms of its broad - and sometimes "empty" - call for the "promotion of human welfare and social reform" and its more immediate task of saving lives in emergencies. Hansen considered such trends while also tracing contemporary theory and practice back to the writings of Immanuel Kant and the work of Henry Dunant. He urged the students to consider human progression and the alleviation of conflict throughout recent history, referencing declining trends in warfare and global violence, but he also indicated growing contemporary challenges, including the rise of displaced persons around the world. 

 Hansen continually brought the discussion back to two central themes. The first is the tension between reaction vs. preemption, namely the level of neutrality and the extent and scope of humanitarian projects. The more you "extend the scope either upstream or downstream from crisis," Hansen explained, the more you will enlarge the political scope and the various ethical and political challenges that come with such a project. The tendency to favor reaction over preemption is currently challenged, continued Hansen, by the globalized nature of potential crisis, particularly those arising from natural disasters - disasters that illuminate the "misleading dichotomy" between what is 'natural' and what is 'man-made' - where the actions of each of us contain consequences for the rest. The second theme of the discussion was that of principles vs. benefits, that is the on-the-ground dilemmas faced by aid workers and NGOs across crises zones. We are "standing in front of decades with real challenges," concluded Hansen, but progress is not some vain dream; it has been shown to be a historical reality.

Senior Fellow at the IIHA, Anthony Land, Ph.D., closed the day's talks with a formal history of humanitarian action. Land broke the humanitarian timeline down into four distinct eras: the Age of Imperial Humanitarianism (Late 18th Century-1945), the Age of New-Humanitarianism (1945-1990), the Age of Liberal Humanitarianism (1990-2001), and the Age of the Global War on Terror (2001-present). He discussed the motives of compassion, change, and containment in early humanitarian efforts, explaining how it was only when the interests of the states coincided with the humanitarian interests of organizations such as the Red Cross that aid was able to move forward. Organizations such as Save the Children and those created under the League of Nations became the prototypes for humanitarian NGOs and international humanitarian organizations. But, as Land noted later on, such aid organizations struggle to maintain core principles as they face accusations of irresponsibility and exploitation. "They live off our suffering and then call us corrupt!" is a sentiment which reflects the tensions between local citizens and international organizations.  

Land also introduced the Dunantist-Wilsonian spectrum of humanitarian aid approaches, and discussed the surge of publications and rethinking of humanitarianism following the failures of crisis aid in Bosnia and Rwanda. A quote on a later slide from a Red Cross worker considering the nature of humanitarian work spurred audible reactions of agreement from the audience. The slide read: "[Aid is] bringing a measure of humanity, always insufficient, into situations that should never exist." This candid answer provided perhaps the day's best summation of the struggle, frustration, and effort that characterizes the work of humanitarian aid workers across the globe. It is a truth each of the students know all too well.

Tuesday and Wednesday featured the tour de force of Pamela Lupton Bowers of PLB Consulting, who worked tirelessly with the students, now divided into their respective syndicates, on various teambuilding and management exercises and leadership skills. The days also included lectures on The Sphere Projectby IIHA Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow, Alexander van Tulleken, M.D. (IDHA 16) and SDGs and Aid: A Post-2015 Agenda by CIHC Deputy Humanitarian Programs Director, Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán (IDHA 16). Thursday will welcome returning IIHA Guest Speakers including Elisabeth Wickeri, J.D., Executive Director of the Leitner Center at Fordham Law School, who will discuss human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL); Melissa Labonte, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, who deliver a lecture on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P); and IDHA 45 TutorsMark Little, M.D. (IDHA 27), Emergency Physician & Clinical Toxicologist, Department of Emergency Medicine, Cairns Base Hospital, Angela Jackson, N.P. (IDHA 27), Cairns Base Hospital, and Vincent Kenny, Ph.D. (IDHA 27), who will lead the class in an interactive First Aid exercise. The week will conclude with the debut lecture of the first IIHA UN Fellow, Gaynel Curry, Gender and Human Rights Adviser, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who will speak about Protecting Women’s Rights and Advancing Gender Equality Before, During and After Conflict.

We wish all of our students and staff an enriching, engaging, and rewarding month ahead!