JUHAN: Initiative's goal to educate undergraduates about humanitarian crises
JUHAN INITIATIVE (CORRECTED) Jun-25-2012 (880 words) With photos. xxxn
Initiative's goal to educate undergraduates about humanitarian crises
By Daniel Linskey
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Earthquakes, oppression, floods and famine are just some of the targets of an initiative to educate undergraduates at Jesuit-run universities about the humanitarian crises such disasters cause.
The initiative is the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network, or JUHAN, formed as a result of discussions among Jesuits about students' enthusiasm for humanitarian efforts but also the recognition such enthusiasm needed direction.
They wanted to create a curriculum to prepare undergraduates for either a career in humanitarian work or "to fulfill everyday civic responsibilities."
"We felt that young people's passion for helping people wasn't being well-channeled. They would raise money to buy blankets or something and send them down to a crisis center, but it was an unsophisticated approach," Jesuit Father Rick Ryscavage told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.
Father Ryscavage is director of Fairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life, where JUHAN held its third biennial conference June 12-15, bringing together faculty, staff, students and humanitarian workers from Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and other agencies.
The conference is an attempt to organize humanitarian education in Jesuit schools worldwide through an integrated curriculum; courses offered depend on the individual strengths of the professors who teach them.
"There are some broad classes like nonprofit organization studies of nongovernmental organizations," Father Ryscavage said. "Then there are others that are much more focused, like a class on sexual violence. It studies more the dynamics of women being targets in war."
The priest believes each discipline has its purpose in humanitarian studies. "Engineering is critical to humanitarian work, but not many engineers consider that type of career. Engineers are crucial when responding to earthquakes," he explained.
Humanitarian work also has a need for students interested in business.
"I think business is necessary, because whenever there is a big emergency, there is money involved," said Father Ryscavage. "We need people who are good with accounting and budgeting to manage how humanitarian aid is spent."
The humanities department also has its place in the initiative's curriculum. Father Ryscavage said, "Sometimes fiction is the best way to teach students. Just giving statistics doesn't penetrate students' hearts the same way reading the memoir of a crisis survivor can."
One Fairfield University student attending the conference, Sara Hoegen, talked about a course she took on Etruscan and Roman art and archaeology.
"It dealt with issues of human slavery and human trafficking. It was interesting to see how these problems began," Hoegen told CNS. She became involved in JUHAN initiative after the Haiti earthquake directly affected family friends.
Courses take an interdisciplinary approach to humanitarian work, according to Father Ryscavage.
"We combined those classes with field trips to get out and see the devastation of tornadoes in Joplin (Mo.), earthquakes in Nicaragua, or the hurricane in New Orleans."
The initiative recently received a $300,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation to do a methodology to codify learning objectives for an assessment.
"We managed to pull it off, and we've been very happy. Now our task is really to make the whole model more global," Father Ryscavage said.
The theme of the conference this year at Fairfield was Global Perspectives on Humanitarian Action." One goal of the conference was for student participants to develop a strategy for a humanitarian curriculum to take back to their campuses.
Fairfield University, Fordham University and Georgetown University have already adopted the network's model.
One French student attending the conference from Beirut, Alexandre Khouri, said he had gotten involved in the initiative through a Jesuit professor. He has since worked as an intermediary between Iraqi refugees and the police and military. The feedback, he said, has been encouraging.
"A country like India has conflicts and economic and political problems, so they have humanitarian issues that need to be taken care of in a targeted local school," he told CNS. "A Philippines Jesuit university will be represented, and their country often faces environmental problems and conflicts between Muslims in the south and Christians in the north."
One speaker at the conference was Evelyn Ello Hart, an Ivory Coast immigrant and a doctoral student at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., who had been helping refugees relocate to the U.S. from Kenya, Sudan and Syria.
"They don't have access to education or health care, and are not allowed to leave the camp," said Ello Hart. "Hayat Muhammad was just resettled into the U.S. after 22 years in a temporary camp. How is Hayat going to have money to pay for community college classes? How can we empower Hayat?"
Ello Hart has been working with Jesuit Commons, a group of individuals, schools and institutions that help people on the margins, like Hayat.
She emphasized one Jesuit maxim -- "men and women for others" -- as a reason for her work.
The Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network was created with hopes that it would encourage students to pursue humanitarian work beyond college. Hoegen is one example of the program's success.
"Next year I will be serving as an Augustinian volunteer where I will be organizing service projects in the Los Angeles (Arch)diocese," she said. "After that I plan to get my master's in nonprofit management."
Echoing Ello Hart, Hoegen said, "'Men and women for others' is a key Jesuit value. It is social justice through education."