By Brian Cartwright
I have known since my high school days that I want to enter the development/humanitarian aid field. My first direct exposure to a global crisis and its effect on individual lives occurred during a class fundraising project to assist refugees from South Sudan. Learning about the struggles refugees face on a daily basis sparked my interest and pushed me to pursue a career in this field. Later, in college, I volunteered for several years within the refugee community in Columbus, Ohio, developing relationships and deepening my knowledge of global issues. These personal interactions, combined with related coursework and an opportunity to study abroad in Uganda gave way to thoughts of joining the Peace Corps and eventually working for an organization that tackles global challenges with the goal of improving livelihoods.
After studying anthropology at the Ohio State University, I found that the anthropological perspective is extremely important in humanitarian and development contexts. This perspective looks carefully and holistically at different situations with an emphasis on working closely and collaboratively with communities, paying close attention to local detail, and listening to the needs of local people. This is the perspective and approach that is held by Lifeline and what ultimately motivated me to join this team. This is how projects and programs aimed at improving livelihoods abroad can be truly sustainable and have a true positive impact on the lives of community members, and for this I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to work with Lifeline.
My overall “umbrella” goal within this internship and subsequently within this field is to continue to learn how I can be effective within an organization by assisting with programs or projects aimed at improving livelihoods abroad. Learning and actively participating in the functions of an INGO, especially with regard to program planning, communications, partner development and business development, will help me understand how these functions come together to develop and implement programs, as well as strengthen an organization’s ability to be effective in this field. In doing so, I want to learn how to effectively balance the intentions of an organization with actual impact. I am also excited continue to learn about humanitarian assistance and how an INGO can play an active role in responding to the needs of forcibly displaced communities during a crisis.
I have found that Lifeline has several programs that align with the holistic, anthropological perspective I articulated above, as well as my personal objectives for this internship. The EverFlow program is a perfect example. This program responds to the cycle of dependency communities often develop on external donors to fix and create new water pumps that inevitably break down (usually failing within the first 2-5 years) that affects a community’s access to fresh drinking water. EverFlow is a maintenance and repair business model comprised of local mechanics who are trained to prevent breakdowns, as well as repair broken water pumps. This approach supports community self-sufficiency by reducing the need for external funds and intervention (which should be the end goal of all development work). Co-designing tools with community members to build self-sufficiency is an example of true sustainability and the embodiment of listening and responding to local needs.
The same can be said for Lifeline’s SAFE program that targets issues of fuel and energy access in an increasingly harsh environment due to climate change and population pressure from the rising number of refugees in Uganda from neighboring countries. Implemented in partnership with the World Food Program (WFP), the SAFE program reduces biomass dependency, supports markets for useful energy products (cookstoves) that can create opportunities for employment, fosters community assets that can improve economic growth, and engages refugee women as community change agents in the program design and implementation. What sets this program apart, however, is Lifeline’s holistic approach that targets several different development challenges (safe energy, economic growth, women’s empowerment, and environmental protection), focusing on community needs and working alongside community members with a shared effort.
If there is any organization that I would like to gain experience with and learn from, it is an organization like Lifeline whose values and approach to humanitarian work align with my own. The opportunity to learn and play an active role in the daily operations of an INGO is truly invaluable and I am excited to get started.