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INEE Journal on Education in Emergencies

31 Jan

Attention all Education in Emergencies enthusiasts (nerds)!

This week the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) announced a brand new Journal on Education in Emergencies. Along with this announcement, INEE also revealed that NYU Steinhardt’s own Dr. Dana Burde will be the Journal’s first Editor-in-Cheif! The first of its kind, the Journal will close a crucial gap as the field itself gains more international attention and (ideally) funding:

The Journal on Education in Emergencies is established in response to the growing need for rigorous Education in Emergencies (EiE) research to strengthen the evidence base, support EiE policy and practice, and improve learning in and across organizations, policy institutes and academic institutions. The Journal will close a gap existing in the academic space: currently, there is no Journal dedicated to this topic. The Journal will facilitate EiE knowledge generation and sharing, thus contributing to the further professionalization of the EiE field.

The Journal will include three sections:

  • EiE Research Articles: Articles in this section will have solid research methodology/ research design, use an explicit, well-recognized theoretical or conceptual framework, and contribute to the evidence-base and the advancement of knowledge on EiE.
  • EiE Practice: Articles in this section will demonstrate progress and/or challenges in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating EiE policies and programs.
  • EiE Book Reviews: Articles in this section will offer a critical review of a recently published or an upcoming book on EiE.

Very excited for this. Manuscript submission guidelines will be released in Spring 2014. This would have been a fantastic resource while I was in graduate school, and I am quite pleased that it will be available for future classes and practitioners.

“With Nelson Mandela behind us…who could be against us?”

13 Dec

The world has been buzzing with the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela last Thursday, with an incessant stream of stories on his life, his legacy, and his impact on crucial issues of civil, political and human rights. He was a champion of the equal provision of rights for all people regardless of race, class, and religion, but following his presidency, he also took on a role as a champion of the rights of people affected by HIV/AIDS. This week marked the 17th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Africa, which was appropriately held in Cape Town, South Africa. Conference participants reflected on the impact that Mandela made on the fight against HIV/AIDS, talking more openly about the epidemic at a time when it was still shrouded in silence.

Perhaps even more striking was the impact that Mandela made on the fight against stigma towards HIV/AIDS. From sporting a t-shirt reading “HIV Positive” upon meeting activists with the Treatment Action Campaign and Médecins Sans Frontières in Khayelitsha, South Africa in 2002, to inviting celebrated HIV-activists like Annie Lennox (I love her way too much) to the launch of his 46664 HIV-awareness campaign in 2003, to his acknowledgement in 2005 that he had in fact lost his own son to an AIDS related illness, Nelson Mandela ushered turning point after turning point in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigma that stymies the efforts of AIDS activists everywhere. He was quoted as saying, “let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV.”

Anyone working in the global effort to curb the spread of HIV and educate populations on its causes and reach can tell you that stigma is often the most difficult barrier to break down in providing effective outreach. This phenomenon is by no means specific to African countries – it exists all over the world – but 97% of those living with HIV reside in low to middle income countries, and adequately providing sufficient resources to curb the spread of HIV in these countries is a colossal task. I remember first arriving in Tanzania some years back, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to join the fight by teaching HIV-prevention education in rural primary schools and local community centres. I was shocked to see and hear first-hand some of the misconceptions and myths about HIV and the general resistance to even acknowledging this devastating epidemic.

There are currently 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV (and that only accounts for those who have been tested…to say that the actual number of cases is significantly higher is a gross understatement) and over 25 million have already died from AIDS-related illnesses*. Though many still believe that HIV is a myth, or that it is a virus spread from the West to perpetuate some form of neo-imperialistic population control in the developing world. Many cultures believe themselves to be immune. Many believe HIV is spread through lies and rumors, through witches and sin, through curses and (ironically) condoms. There are millions of people in this world who do not want to get tested because they would rather not know their status. This is not only because of the devastating affect of HIV on a person’s health, but also because many communities still stigmatize and reject individuals based on their HIV status.

Educating the world about HIV/AIDS is essential to stopping it. So much emphasis is placed on radical new ARV treatment therapies that we forget that HIV is a 100% preventable virus – spread through sex, blood, and birth from an HIV+ mother. Educating oneself and one’s community about the facts of the epidemic can help to prevent the stigma and breed generations of people working together, regardless of status, to put an end to the spread of HIV.

Nelson Mandela recognized this. Just as he knew that no peoples of this world should be discriminated against based upon the color of their skin, Mandela knew that those living with HIV need the support, acceptance and love of their neighbors – and their country – in order to receive proper care and prevent the virus from spreading further. Though as the conference in Cape Town discussed, “vulnerable groups such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and prisoners are still being criminalized and marginalized in most countries, and are often unable to access basic HIV services.”

Madiba has left the world with an immense legacy of compassion, vision and the relentless pursuit of equality for all human beings. Let us honor that legacy by educating ourselves about HIV/AIDS in our countries and around the world, and recognize that stigmatizing an individual based on their HIV status is no different than discriminating against them based on the color of their skin.

*Quick Fact: Few people seem to understand that HIV is a virus that depletes the immune system over a number of years, most of which are marked by no symptoms, which is why getting tested is the ONLY way to know one’s status. AIDS, on the other hand, is a stage of HIV that comes about once a person’s T-Cell count (the ones that keep us immune to illness and disease) drops so low that our bodies are unable to fight off infection. To say someone has died of AIDS is to say that that person died as a result of opportunistic infections that took advantage of a body with no immune system to protect itself. Next time you hear somebody say “You’re going to get AIDS” or “I don’t want to get AIDS by engaging in Behavior X, Y, or Z,” let them know that this erroneous understanding of a complex virus is detrimental to the fight to end it. Educate yourself. Find out more.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”

5 Dec

ss-120601-mandela-tease.photoblog600(1918-2013)

Drones for the Congo

5 Dec

The United Nations has recently launched the first surveillance drones ever deployed by a UN peacekeeping force. And where else but the Democratic Republic of Congo, home of the first UN peacekeeping force ever authorized to use lethal force in an effort to weaken – and ultimately help defeat – the recently surrendered M23 rebel movement in DRC’s North Kivu province. Following justifiable concerns that a lethal peacekeeping force could have a detrimental impact on the humanitarian presence on the ground in DRC and the ability of civil society to effectively deliver aid to those in need, the UN has been further criticized for providing too little help, a little too late.

Two Falco drones, manufactured by the Italian Selex ES, were launched this Tuesday after the UN Security Council approved their trial use in January. Another drone will be on the way later this month and two additional drones are expected to be launched in March 2014. The drones will be used to monitor population movements in areas affected by recent violence, as well as monitor the alleged transfer of arms and munitions from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

If the UN has managed to approve a mandate to launch drones to monitor military presence, what could this mean for the future work of UN agencies like OCHCR, UNHCR and other coordinating bodies for monitoring forced displacement, attacks on schools, and the myriad widespread human rights violations that plague DRC and surrounding regions? Ideally, this increase could signal an imminent expansion of the United Nations’ global reach into the safety and well-being of populations usually too remote and removed from urban centres to adequately monitor.

Like here in the United States, many may argue that the increased use of surveillance drones by the UN could constitute an invasion of privacy. Or, as in the case of recent allegations aimed the International Criminal Court, African nations could interpret this move as yet another “toy of declining imperial powers,” being used to remotely monitor and ultimately influence the affairs of African populations.

Here in the U.S., I for one do not generally lose too much sleep over Orwellian prophecies (despite my love of sci-fi). Perhaps that is because there is nothing that the government could pick up in my phone calls or find in my mail that could ever get me into any trouble, but I do believe that such ‘Snowden-era’ surveillance (despite the geopolitical and moral implications) is ultimately conducted in an effort to keep us safe, not to control our thoughts or actions. With a new mandate to launch surveillance drones now in the UN’s hands, could this indicate new options for the future of global security? Could this mean that rural populations in the developing world may one day be afforded the same protection and security that is arguably offered in the United States? Will the people of Syria, Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan be able to benefit from this effort to monitor the interactions of armed groups and civilians? Or will this program simply run out of support and funding next year and be remembered only as a waste of time and money?

Week-e-Links

16 Aug

As the world’s eyes are glued to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt, a few other bits of HREC-worthy news and stories caught my eye. Enjoy, share, discuss:

1) International Education M.A. Alumni share their stories

Because this blog is also dedicated to sharing the stories, struggles and successes of members of our graduate cohort as we emerge into the field of education, I would like to commend those who were featured in NYU Steinhardt’s M.A. Alumni profile section (including HREC’s own Alice Jacques and attendees of the Human Rights and Education Colloquium!). You can read interviews with each alum, detailing their favorite aspects about their new positions as well as what they liked about their recent International Education graduate degree program.

2) INEE Conflict Sensitive Education Pack

This week, the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) launched the highly anticipated Conflict Sensitive Education Pack. According to INEE, “conflict sensitive education refers to the design and delivery of education programs and policies in a way that considers the conflict context and aims to minimize the negative impact (contribution to conflict) and maximize positive impact (contribution to peace).” The CSE pack thus supports the integration of conflict sensitivity in education policies and programs with several tools, including: INEE’s Guidance Note on Conflict Sensitive Education; a Reflection Tool for designing and implementing conflict sensitive education programmes in conflict-affected and fragile contexts; Guiding Principles on integrating conflict sensitivity in education policy and programming; and a number of additional resources. FHI 360 and Save the Children co-hosted the Launch with INEE this Tuesday in Washington D.C. For those who missed out, you can watch the stream of the event.

You can find and download the full CSE Pack on INEE’s Toolkit here.

3) The humanitarian situation in Darfur

While eyes have been turned (justifiably) to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria and the surrounding region, the humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of Sudan is the worst it has been in years, with over 300,000 people fleeing their homes in 2013 alone and 3.2 million Sudanese in need of humanitarian assistance. Over the past decade, over 2.3 million people have been displaced by ongoing violence, which in recent years has been fueled primarily by disputes over grazing land and gold-mining. The Sudanese government in Khartoum is both unable and ostensibly unwilling to assist those in Darfur, placing the responsibility to protect (let’s not jump into an R2P debate just yet…) squarely in the hands of the international community, who remains drastically underfunded for the endeavor. Virtually all international NGO staff and aid workers have left Darfur. This deteriorating situation reminds me of the myriad challenges facing the humanitarian community to provide assistance to those in need. When states effectively dismantle international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, assistance becomes impossible. I am curious to see whether the same sort of “smuggled aid” that found its way into Syria last year has taken any sort of foothold in Sudan. My guess is no, but does anyone happen to know of other efforts being made to undercut the traditional avenues of assistance provision to help the people of Darfur?

4) How technology is transforming emergency preparedness

In their “Humanitarian Futures” series, OCHA’s IRIN has been producing some great pieces exploring anticipated changes in the aid world likely to unfold over the next decade. This week, IRIN looks at how technology is transforming emergency preparedness around the world. The piece explores how mobile phone technology, geographic information systems (GIS), and other technologies like Twitter are being used to provide early warning systems and routine monitoring in the face of crises. When I began my work in Tanzania as recently as 2009, it seemed that the idea of mobile banking was only in its very nascent stages. When I returned to Uganda just a year later, it seemed that mobile banking, mobile transfers and mass communication systems were burgeoning at a remarkable rate. I am quite interested to see how these technologies continue to be improved and expanded to benefit the largest number of people possible. I like to think the future looks quite bright!

5) Area 51 officially acknowledged

I’m hoping that before long, the Human Rights & Education Collaborative will have to evolve into the Human/Extraterrestrial Rights & Education Collaborative – HEREC…nice ring to it don’t you think?

Fighting Fire With Fire: The UN in DRC

3 Aug

I am curious to get some other views on this development. Back in March, the United Nations issued UN Security Council Resolution 2098, which authorizes the use of a new UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is the “first-ever ‘offensive’ combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to ‘neutralize and disarm’ the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” As of Thursday, August 1st, the invitation for the M23 and other rebel groups throughout the region to lay down their arms peacefully before the FIB is fully launched has officially expired.

It may be an appealing option to some: send in a force of 3,096 armed troops from Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa with the sole mission of disarming any armed individuals who are not members of national or UN security forces. The aim is to ultimately bring peace to the tumultuous Great Lakes region by reducing the level of weaponry in the hands of rebel groups. However, many have expressed concerns about the level of danger that the first offensive combat force coming out of the United Nations will cause, particularly for civilians and aid workers operating in the region. A May 23rd letter signed by 19 NGOs was sent to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pleading that the FIB be kept under close surveillance to ensure it is operating solely within its mandate, to prioritize the protection of civilians, and to fully commit to the inclusion of community voices throughout the process.

Atrocities carried out on civilians run rampant in the Great Lakes region, perpetrated by both rebel and government forces alike. It is thus understandable that introducing more arms into the region is a powerful cause for concern. NGOs and aid workers on the other hand, now have added cause for concern. With the United Nations and MONUSCO now associated with an offensive armed force in the eyes of rebel groups operating in the area, the connotation could easily spread across the aid-community. Personally, I have stopped applying for jobs based in DRC, for the same reason many NGOs likely fear reprisal for actions they have nothing to do with. As IRIN reports, “several observers have questioned whether MONUSCO’s existing role of protecting civilians, particularly in displaced peoples’ camps, will be possible in areas where the Brigade attacks armed groups, as this could result in retaliation against all UN military and civilian personnel as well as against other aid workers and civilians.”

Meanwhile, other armed groups are strengthening in the region. The DRC-based Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) could further exacerbate UN efforts and serve to spread the FIB’s mandate into neighboring countries as well. The Ugandan government hopes that the FIB will ultimately assist in the disarmament of ADF rebels, but where will the FIB’s mandate stop? With new rebel groups emerging from Eastern DRC and its neighboring regions each year, how long will FIB be charged with ‘protecting’ the local populations. I see this move as a dangerous and volatile solution to a dangerous and volatile problem. Peace talks have perpetually failed, and though the FIB may be seen as the only option remaining, I don’t believe that introducing more armed groups is really what the region needs. The situation reminds me a bit of the death penalty – deterring murder by murdering – and the United Nations does not look fondly on that deterrent. Now the UN is effectively situating itself as a lethal force to wipe out lethal force in the eyes of regional armed groups, and that image will be very tough to shake. Looking back at the onset of genocide in Rwanda, I am of the opinion that military force SHOULD have been enacted by the UN, but exacerbating the subsequent history of violence pervasive throughout the Great Lakes seems to be quite a risky move in this particular situation.

I am interested to hear the opinions of others, but I will first say that I was very moved by the way Stephen Oola, transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, framed the issue with reference to Uganda in particular. I am glad someone can see the forest for the trees:

According to Makerere’s Oola, Uganda needs to do some soul-searching if it is to defeat the rebellions that continue to destabilize the country: “We must sit down as country in judgment of oursel[ves], through truth-seeking and national dialogue, to ask the right questions. Why are they fighting? What should be done to end their rebellion? How do we address the impact of the cycle of violence that has bedevilled this country from independence?”

The path of military personnel has been wrought with complication, confusion and a failure to recognize the unique needs of a heterogeneously populated region. I am not sure if the UN’s new ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach is the best idea. Thoughts?

Boy Scouts of America…now for every boy

27 May

Friday marked a major shift in the Boy Scouts of America’s policy towards gay scouts – a majority of Scout leadership voted to allow membership for gay scouts in the US. While I could echo the sentiment of nearly every publication about the vote and follow my normal pattern of chastising the organization for failing to allow gay scout leaders, who serve as role models for the Scouts and whose exclusion only exacerbates the taboo against gays within the organization, OR chastising various church groups from pulling funding from the Scouts based on this ruling, OR chastising a slew of Scout parents who now refuse to allow their children into the organization for fear of exposing their sons to homosexuals….I’m not going to.

What I am going to say is that I am extremely proud of the members of the Boy Scouts of America who have stood behind this cause and who have brought it this far. This is a time to rejoice over progress, a time to look proudly towards the future, and a time to step back and appreciate how far this country has come in just the past few years to provide an equal and undiscriminated footing for the LGBT community. To those who made this advancement and social progress in the Scouts possible, I salute you (with three fingers, of course).