La Roche College Associate Prof. Jeff Ritter has learned a lot in his travels, exploring international aid projects. He has discovered that working effectively to help during humanitarian crises, such as droughts or other natural disasters, takes more than a willingness to step up.
"'We get a thousand letters every time we need a volunteer,'" he says an International Committee of the Red Cross official once told him, "'and I look at them and we won't take any of them … We need someone who understands what they are doing, what they are stepping into. We'd rather have someone who has run a small business or has volunteered at a soup kitchen than someone who has a master's in development.'
Workers on such projects need to exercise cultural sensitivity, Ritter adds. International aid programs now emphasize "restoring and improving livelihoods, not just giving food, water and shelter. There's even emergency education now" when schools are shut down. "If kids miss a year of education they will never catch up."
To provide proper training on the latest needs and methods in the aid field, Ritter has launched and is co-directing a new summer course open to the public, "Global Development and Humanitarian Aid Training,"
set for June 30-July 13.
The need for humanitarian workers never seems to go away, which has made international disaster relief into a career. "Humanitarian aid is a huge field and it's growing every year, and there's a high attrition rate," Ritter notes. But, he adds, it is fascinating work, taking place everywhere from refugee camps to offices, involving many types of training: logistics, database, health, law, advocacy and more.
"There's not many opportunities to get training in the United States in this field," Ritter notes. Harvard's program, for instance, is open only to Harvard students and those of a few surrounding institutions. Ritter himself took such a course offered by RedR, an international disaster relief aid and training group in England that will send a representative here to teach part of La Roche's course.
Other teachers are local: Andy Pugh, country director of Oxfam International in Haiti and an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh; Terry Jeggle, an international expert on disaster management and mitigation; and Jason O'Connor, who has been doing work in the Sudan as a security specialist. Lessons will involve classroom work and simulations about everything from the legal framework of emergency aid to water and hygiene needs and planning for volcanoes and earthquakes.
"It's not a guaranteed entry into the field, but it's a good start," Ritter says. He has already received an inquiry from Food for the Hungry in England, asking for recommendations among course graduates. "We're really looking for adventurous people."
Course applicants with an undergraduate degree are preferred, Ritter says, and March 15 is the deadline for registering at a discount price. The course can be taken for undergraduate or graduate college credit. Those interested should check the course website for a webinar that will include a live chat for questions.
Some basic work in disaster relief still takes volunteers: Connect with Amizade, which has upcoming service-learning courses in Nicaragua, Tanzania and Trinidad & Tobago, here
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jeff Ritter, La Roche College