We sat down with Ranya Ali Haidarah Al-Jaberi, recipient of one of our scholarships and currently enrolled in our Executive Master of Advanced Studies In Humanitarian Action to talk about her professional background, her experience as a refugee and her plans for the future.
Could you tell us more about your background? What did you study?
I am a passionate human rights activist with an eight-year experience in Child Protection (CP) and Internal Displacement People (IDPs) programming in hostile conflict environments in Yemen, my home country. I hold a bachelor degree in Arts and Education from the University of Aden, Yemen, and I am currently an Executive Master’s student at the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, a joint centre of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.
I have worked as a Child Protection and GBV Protection Programme Coordinator in the Child Protection Unit of the Danish Refugee Council and as a Child Protection Specialist/Officer with UNICEF. In this role, I supported the partners’ implementation of part of the child protection programme. I also had similar responsibilities in the reintegration of children associated with armed groups in southern governorates where armed forces or armed groups recruited and used children in the conflict. I was also responsible for monitoring the implementation and the management of the agreements on the provision of mental health and psychosocial support to conflict-affected children, young people, their families and communities. This included the establishment and management of child-friendly centres. Later on, I led the implementation of a centre for the provision of prosthesis to conflict-affected children.
In which circumstances did you become a refugee?
Because of my work, I provided support to many refugees and IDPs, but little did I know that one day I was going to be a refugee myself. In November 2018, I had to leave my home country, Yemen, after facing significant danger. Living and working in a hostile environment such as Yemen undermines one’s alertness to the abundance of risk factors. The abnormality of war becomes a tolerable reality, and to some extent, the norm.
How did you start working in the humanitarian sector? What made you choose this professional path?
In 1994, the civil war started in Yemen. I was only ten years old, but I knew that the situation was bad. We were spending our days in a very crowded place with several other families to escape the shelling. There was no water to drink and no food to eat. My best friend and some members of my own family got Cholera. I had to witness the desperation of my friend’s mother because no one was able to help her sick child. It was crushing. Then, one day, we woke up to find a team of humanitarian aid workers who came to help us. They brought us clean water, food and even took the time to talk and play with us. They brought us happiness amid the despair. They were heroes to me. Because of them, I decided to work in the humanitarian field, and it has been a dream come true.
Why did you choose the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies for your Executive Master? Is there a specific area of studies that you are interested in?
Despite the traumatic experience of exile, I realized that studying for this master degree was indeed an opportunity for me to pursue the life I wanted beyond the cultural, religious and structural constraints that have always held me back as a woman in my own country. My dreams of studying humanitarian science for my undergraduate degree were crushed because I was not allowed to go to study in another city other than my own. Being in Switzerland strips away such limits and gives me the chance to pursue my dreams. Being a MAS student is one step forward to retrieve my narrative, expand the scope of my choices, and reshape my future.
The MAS programme is the perfect addition to capitalize on my experience working in the humanitarian field. Back in 2012, when I started working, I lacked proper professional training. Holding an executive master’s degree in Humanitarian Action will allow me to propel my career with the proper training and accreditation.
The significance of Humanitarian Action studies lays in their ability to give me the right tools to engage in informative debates and decisions and to improve the livelihood of people.
How do you intend to use what you will learn during this year at the Centre? Which plans do you have after the Master?
I am going to use this knowledge to meet my goal of working in a high-level position and being able to influence decision-makers. I am also planning to research the intersection of development and child protection in the case of Yemen, drawing on my network of contacts and accumulated resources.
Moreover, my work exposed me to relevant challenges. There are resentment and opposition to the monitoring and reporting of grave violations against children in armed conflict. Such an issue reflects the challenges to access conflict zones and to collect the data reflecting the reality of the situations for the international community and the interested organizations. The lack of such data, in some cases, is the reason behind delayed aid and support.
My take on this issue is that investments in local NGOs should be greatly increased. They are at the frontline of the process. They have access and influence over the community. Thus, upon the completion of my master degree, I want to work with local NGOs to improve their monitoring and reporting mechanism and to empower them to deliver their voices and findings to the international community. In return, the increase in the reliable and trusted reporting of violations will hopefully play gradually as a deterrent for armed groups to violate or abuse children.
Which advice would you give to other refugees interested in pursuing their studies?
Often, refugees are stuck between the loss and alienation they feel from their place, their past and their community, and the challenges they face to be accepted by the host community, which of course affects their integration into society.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Refugees interested in pursuing their studies should know that being a refugee shouldn’t prevent them from building their future. They have to right to a life full of new experiences and knowledge that must be refined with study, knowledge, and with active and positive integration into society.