Earlier this spring I had contacted MALD student Kamil Pawlowski with a question. We exchanged a round of emails, and only then did I learn that he was not responding from campus, but rather from Yangon, Myanmar. I asked him if he would write something for the blog, and he kindly agreed. Here’s his report about his year on leave from Fletcher.
One year ago this week I arrived in Myanmar to begin my summer internship with UNICEF. I had finished my first year at Fletcher, and was excited to go to a country I’d been studying for nearly a decade, and especially to put into practice some of the knowledge and skills I’d acquired over the previous year. Four other classmates were interning in Yangon that summer, and we all shared a cheap flat downtown. It was so cheap, though, that since I was the last of the crew to arrive and I got last pick of the rooms, I ended up without a door or air-conditioning. Needless to say, it wasn’t a comfortable summer, but it proved to be worth the discomfort in ways I hadn’t expected. A few weeks before my internship was over, I was offered a temporary position as Emergency and Reporting Officer with UNICEF Myanmar!
I debated what to do for a long time while I went through the official hiring process. I was worried about interrupting my two-year degree, about how removing myself from graduate school for a year would affect my academic motivation, and about not graduating with the group of friends and colleagues with whom I’d begun the Fletcher journey. However, it was a fantastic opportunity to further my career goals and to gain more experience in what I had wanted to accomplish with my degree in the first place. Ultimately I succeeded in the required external candidate hiring process and decided to take the posting. Fletcher was gracious enough to grant me a leave-of-absence for the duration of the appointment, and while the decision to delay the completion of my MALD was difficult, I am happy with the choice I made. Fortunately, I’m now living in a nice flat with doors, air-conditioning, and even wireless internet — a luxury here, and a huge upgrade from last summer!
As an Emergency and Reporting Officer, I work on the coordination and monitoring of UNICEF’s humanitarian intervention in two on-going emergency settings. In Kachin State, around 91,000 people have been newly displaced by a decades-long civil war that resurged in 2011, while in Rakhine State, around 140,000 people have been displaced, and an additional 170,000 have been otherwise affected by communal violence since 2012. I primarily work in Yangon, but have gone on missions to both areas to provide technical assistance to field staff in monitoring, as well as to conduct emergency preparedness and response trainings, including refreshers on humanitarian principles. Most of my work focuses on organizing information and reporting on UNICEF’s interventions in both states. The work is difficult, though at times exciting, especially when I see the implementation of recommendations I make and their positive outcomes. It is also increasingly challenging, due to a shrinking humanitarian space as a result of communal conflict and misunderstandings, or misrepresentation about how aid is delivered. This has resulted in targeted attacks against humanitarian offices in Rakhine State, and has restricted access to many areas. While solutions are not readily available, we have been able to make some progress to address these challenges, influenced in part by my own research and study at Fletcher.
I came to Fletcher to earn a MALD through the study of humanitarian assistance, minority rights, and forced migration. My academic work has routinely focused around how a particular population in Myanmar, the Rohingya, have been affected by these issues. During my first year at Fletcher I took courses that strengthened both my contextual and practical understanding of how to provide effective humanitarian assistance, while upholding and respecting the basic human rights of displaced peoples and conflict-affected people. At UNICEF I have been constantly applying things I absorbed through courses during my first year at Fletcher, especially from Hurst Hannum’s Nationalism, Self-Determination and Minority Rights, Dan Maxwell’s Humanitarian Assistance in Complex Emergencies, Cheyenne Scharbatke-Church’s Design and Monitoring of Peacebuilding and Development Programming, and Dyan Mazurana’s Gender, Culture and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. These courses have provided tangible tools and ways of thinking to address many of the issues we face here in Myanmar, particularly more thoughtful and impact-driven program design and evaluation, gender and conflict analysis, and a key understanding of the human rights and humanitarian assistance polemics that have direct application to the conflict environment in Myanmar. I am especially grateful to the professors and atmosphere at Fletcher for fostering knowledge through the study, analysis, and practice of real-world cases and debates. This academic experience has had great impact on my ability to maneuver and succeed in this complex environment.
I am excited to return to Fletcher when I finish my appointment. I will go back with a fresh understanding of the skills I still need to acquire through coursework, to better do the job I want to do. I will also bring with me an experience that will be extremely valuable for connecting the issues discussed in Fletcher courses with their practice in the fields of humanitarianism and human rights. Just as importantly, I’ll meet a whole new group of wonderful, talented, exciting individuals with whom to share the next step of our journey.
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