Teaching the next generation of humanitarians

Guest post by Stephanie Murphy, Canadian Red Cross

In times of disaster and emergencies, the work done by humanitarians at home and abroad is essential. Over the last two years, Canadian Red Cross aid workers have assisted with earthquakes in Nepal and Ecuador, at Syrian refugee camps and with Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, among many others. Disasters, both natural and manmade, are increasingly common. This is why the work of the Canadian Red Cross focuses not only on sending aid workers to emergencies, but also training and educating the next generation.

Two of the Canadian Red Cross’ specialists in health are contributing in this way through the University of Toronto’s Global Health Education Initiative (GHEI). In the GHEI, medical residents earn a two-year Mr. Houston and one of his guest speakers, fellow Red Cross aid worker Dr. Mahmood Elahi, accepted an Award of Excellence for their participation in the modulepost-graduate certificate on meeting marginalized populations’ needs globally. Canadian Red Cross aid worker Chris Houston co-ordinates a module for GHEI entitled Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. On June 9 at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine’s Global Health Day, Mr. Houston and one of his guest speakers, fellow Red Cross aid worker Dr. Mahmood Elahi (both pictured left), accepted an Award of Excellence for their participation in the module, nominated by the participants as the best out of 25 offered by the program.

The module, in its fourth year, includes an introduction to the humanitarian landscape and complex humanitarian emergencies as well as lessons on their medical aspects, security and logistics. It’s co-ordinated by Mr. Houston and Dr. Raghu Venugopal, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto. Dr. Elahi assisted with the medical component. He believes the module was so popular with students because it demonstrates “live experience, something tangible...I think they related to us presenting real-life experience.” Mr. Houston echoes this, owing the module’s success to guest speakers sharing their personal accounts of doing humanitarian work.

Adding to the strength of the module is the first-hand field experience that both Mr. Houston and Dr. Elahi bring to it. Mr. Houston is on the board of directors for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, and has worked with them in Pakistan, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia, and also ran their operations in northern Syria. He previously volunteered with the British Red Cross domestically for Red Cross aid worker Dr. Mahmood Elahi speaks to University of Toronto students.four years and worked on a two-person team that evaluated the Canadian Red Cross’ response to the Nepal earthquake. Dr. Elahi led the last of five teams deployed by the Canadian Red Cross to Nepal and represented the organization in the official handover of the field hospital to the Nepalese health authorities. He is currently on assignment at refugee camps in Northern Greece.

Dr. Elahi is “thrilled [the module] was so well received by the students” and says he wants to continue inspiring young people. The award was particularly special for him as it came on the 25th anniversary of his own graduation from the University of Toronto’s medical school. He says the idealism that he remembers feeling upon graduation underpins his work over the years with the Red Cross. Mr. Houston says he’s very proud of the award. To those looking to pursue a career in the humanitarian field, his advice is this: “Do it! It’s the most rewarding job in the world.”

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