Tag Archives: NGO

The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian

ICRC building on the hill

International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva

There’s a saying in Gaza (at least among some) that the Palestinians are living under THREE occupations.

The first, of course, is the Israeli military occupation. The United Nations and nearly the entire international community recognize this occupation. It’s been going on for so many decades that at least one scholar prefers to call it colonization, not an occupation. It’s perhaps the best documented occupation in world history.

The second is the internal political occupation.  Palestinians in Gaza are living under Hamas, and Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Living under” is the correct terminology in both cases because there haven’t been elections in more than a decade (no concept of “term limits” in the Arab world as far as I can tell) and both Hamas and the PA rule with an iron fist.

I learned about the third type of occupation when I was in Gaza in 2012-2013 and met with local city officials to discuss planning issues in the community. They told me bluntly, “What plans? It’s whatever the NGOs are willing to fund. Their plans get implemented, ours stay on the shelf.” So I call this the NGO occupation. Donors’ good intentions can actually backfire because they disempower the local communities they’re meant to serve. US-AID projects are a good example.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for both nation-states and the private sector attempting to address the serious needs of the most vulnerable. Things are changing rapidly.

ICRC Museum

ICRC Museum Entrance — Geneva

Focusing on humanitarian action, as it has since its beginning in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked the following question in this new COVID-19 world we’re entering:

How then should aid organizations anticipate and prepare for this new reality, still opaque in many ways, and balance it against the expected overwhelming needs? Better yet, rather than adapting and anticipating to this new reality, how can aid organizations lean in and embrace the present crisis as a conduit for radical change, proactively reshaping and repositioning an aid sector that is fit for purpose to protect and address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized?

The question is important, the answers that follow may profoundly change the way NGOs address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This 18 minute audio of a blog posted by Raphael Gorgeu provides a good explanation of how the NGO landscape may be changing. The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian.  Have a listen.

A public health crisis to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly metastasized to nearly all fronts of society. Considered one of the biggest crises in modern history, the pandemic’s effects will deeply impact the lives of billions of people, shake the foundations of our solidarity models and redesign parts of the international humanitarian sector. The way aid actors move forward now will shape the future of the humanitarian landscape: pre-existing trends are speeding up as new ones are brought into play, all while the overall balance is placed under scrutiny. In a myriad of ways, many still unforeseeable, the intensity of the present period is accelerating change.



Filed under COVID-19, Occupation, Politics, United Nations, Video

Civil society in Amman

An invitation to meet the teachers and volunteers at the Syrian Women’s Association (SWA) in Amman was a golden opportunity to see the Muslim faith in action — thanks to Eman (from Gaza) and Maryam (from Malaysia).

My friend in Amman braved the crazy city traffic, including a fender bender, to take me to the center and translate for me.

This was a special day at the SWA — they were celebrating the good work of the many volunteers who teach Syrian women how to sew, style hair, or cook — all with the goal of learning skills that can be used to earn a living to support themselves and their families. They also teach English lessons.


Volunteers at the Syrian Women Association in Amman, Jordan

The SWA’s model is a very smart way to make a big difference in the lives of many Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan. The women learn how to sew and make new garments on an electric sewing machine. When they finish, each refugee can keep her sewing machine. Later, she returns to the SWA with the clothes she’s made at home. The SWA pays her for each item she has made and then turns around to sell the hand-made clothes in Amman to support the work of the SWA.

It appears to be a very solid, sustainable model that gives each refugee new skills, independence and self-respect — a much better way to help than the model of dependency and donations that many larger NGOs use. (I heard whispers about the corruption that exists in some of the foreign NGOs.)


SWA founder shows her appreciation to Maryam, a volunteer from Malaysia.

The SWA is run by a woman who fled Syria many years ago because she was facing imprisonment there. I think she traveled alone to Jordan, studied religious teachings and ended up marrying another Syrian she met in Amman who is now a doctor. She started the SWA ten years ago before the current fighting but now, of course, there is a much greater need for assistance.

She runs it with a few employees but most of the teachers are volunteers. In addition to the women who receive training, the SWA provides an after-school program for Syrian orphans. My friend from Amman, a retired teacher, was so impressed with the organization that she offered to volunteer!



Hadith on the wall – teaching the children how to read the Qu’ran

I was reminded again how small and interconnected our world is when a Syrian woman at SWA asked me where I’m from. “New Mexico, USA,” I told her, half expecting that she might confuse New Mexico with Mexico. She smiled and told me “My Uncle lives in Gallup, New Mexico.”

The take-away message for me — after my short visit at the SWA — is that small organizations run by big hearts can make a huge difference in the lives of many. The world needs to look closely at the model used by SWA — local, hands-on, self-sufficient, respect and sustainable. Women helping women — one stitch at a time.


Wedding dresses for young brides from Syria






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Filed under Peaceful, People, Uncategorized