Ms. Tsega Teffera is currently a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with SOS Children’s Villages USA, an international NGO that builds families for orphaned, abandoned and other vulnerable children in 134 countries and territories, including the United States. Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she recently received her Master’s Degree in Communications Management from Webster University. In this blog post, Tsega writes about her increased knowledge of the international development sector as well as the projects she supported throughout her Fellowship in the Marketing department.
From my first day at SOS Children’s Villages USA (SOS), each person, in their own way, made me feel like part of the team. Everyone that I met genuinely believed in the organization’s mission. And soon, I understood why.
SOS has a unique approach to a problem that is all too common – orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children. The organization provides the most basic yet foundational element of every child’s upbringing and life – a family.
The SOS Model is simple: there are villages, homes, siblings and mothers – in short, families. The SOS Village is a supportive community that offers psychological and medical support, schools and recreational facilities. The home is a safe environment where children have a sense of belonging and responsibility both for their home and for each other. Biological siblings are kept together, not separated. Most important of all is the SOS Mother, a trained caregiver who loves and cares for the children.
(Tsega Teffera – bottom row, second from left, with SOS USA staff)
As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, my projects this summer and fall ranged from developing communication materials for internal and external use to conducting research and collecting content. I was tasked with telling the inspiring stories of SOS families all over the world and supporting the organization’s efforts in building awareness about SOS in the United States. These projects definitely helped me to sharpen my skills and to take my know-how from theory to practice. More than that, it allowed me to discover that sweet spot where my interests and skills could be used to better people’s lives.
SOS is changing kids’ lives and giving them the opportunity to fulfill their potential. This is evidenced by the many success stories I learned of through the course of my fellowship, including that of Gebre, a little boy in Ethiopia who found his way to an SOS Village after losing his family to famine, and ended up at Harvard University on a full scholarship; and that of Mavis, a young girl raised in an SOS Village in Zimbabwe who made it to the Rio Olympics as part of the national soccer team. Seeing these changed lives has motivated me to work hard and put in the extra effort, because not only is the outcome worth it, but the positive effects are lasting.
As I wrap up my time at SOS, I see a future for the organization that is exciting and impactful thanks to corporate partners, individuals, SOS alumni and other groups who believe in the organization’s mission. Of these partners is one that I was able to meet in person was 11-year-old Capri Everitt. Capri was so moved by the plight of vulnerable children that she decided to use her voice to raise awareness and funds for SOS. For nearly a year, the young girl traveled to 80 countries and sang the national anthem of each country in the national language (41 languages total). Being involved in this project taught me that there is always something that I can do, no matter what my position or resources. Capri’s story is proof that anyone can help, if we are creative with what we have.
(Capri Everitt with children from an SOS Children’s Village in Nongkhai, Thailand)
This fellowship gave me the opportunity to discover what I, as a young African woman and leader, can do to serve my community. I’ve learned that it is possible to provide holistic support to individuals, and also that the various factors that impact people are interconnected and therefore require a multifaceted approach. As I aspire to work in the international development sector, this fellowship has broadened my thinking and taught me to consider both the short and long term impact, which is critical for sustainable development. There are many development-related issues that need to be addressed to support kids and people in general, but after my time at SOS, I’m confident that I can contribute to positive change and make a difference in my community and communities around the world.
Mr. Sunil Pokhrel is currently the Senior Injury & Rehabilitation Officer and Physiotherapist with Handicap International Nepal. He is responsible for injury management, early detection, health promotion and rehabilitation and assistive device services. Sunil is featured in the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program documentary “On Shifting Ground,” sharing the work of Handicap International Nepal before, during and after the 2015 Nepal earthquake. In this piece, he highlights the importance of rehabilitation services and the different collaborations that have occurred across the country since the disaster.
A Ray of Hope
by Sunil Pokhrel
In April 2015, I had been looking forward to presenting for the first time at the largest international gathering of physical therapists, the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) conference, but I canceled my participation. The event was to be held in Singapore just eight days after the earthquake that shook the foundation of my country. I still remember the moment when I faced the dilemma of whether to fly to the event or to be in Nepal and support the country, which had been reduced to rubble. A voice within me directed me to stay and help the 23,000 injured, to be a ray of hope to the broken.
The earthquake was one of the biggest disasters in the history of Nepal. Local, national and international organizations lent their helping hands to respond together. My decision to stay was influenced by the individuals and organizations that have shaped me as a humanitarian working to strengthen my community. Handicap International Nepal has always prioritized preparedness for unexpected disasters, and this work helped to set the tone for the response from the first day. Sarah Blin, the Country Director at the time, provided sound leadership that was instrumental in allowing the organization to respond to the overwhelming demand of injury management and rehabilitation. I was also inspired by SOS Children’s Villages Surkhet – Nepal, the place where I studied from nursery school to 10th grade; it is my second home that inculcated the humanitarian spirit in me right from childhood.
When the earthquake happened, I was immediately sent to work at the largest government teaching hospital, and I still remember those initial heart-wrenching moments. There was limited space and limited resources to respond to the high need to save people’s lives. My role at the hospital was to support the existing medical team, transferring them safely from ambulances to triage zones; to triage injured survivors, bracing the injured parts on the first initial days. Later on, I was tasked to teach exercises, provide assistive devices (crutches, canes, wheelchairs and braces) after proper assessment and user training and to educate the patients and their family members about the need for follow-up rehabilitation.
In Nepal, rehabilitation services are not fully integrated into the healthcare system, but this is a very important part of healthcare, linked with minimizing the complications and preventing the disabling effect of the injury. Demand for rehabilitation exponentially rises in post-disaster scenarios like earthquakes. Working in post-disaster scenarios is especially difficult because the survivors are experiencing psychological trauma as well as physical injuries.
After the earthquake, I was based at the same hospital for almost three months, directly providing services and also supervising the emergency rehabilitation physical therapists recruited later by Handicap International. I met more than 1,000 injured survivors and family members during that time. Most of them came from remote areas in Nepal where rehabilitation services were not available. During the initial days, it was very difficult to convince patients and their family members to get actively engaged in the rehabilitation process as they were in psychological stress due to injury, loss of family members and property. One main focus at that time was to listen, to explain, with examples, the stories of people with disabilities who have succeeded in life. This practice helped to make the exercises and rehabilitation process easier and participative.
Without the patient’s active involvement, rehabilitation is not effective. One woman with a single leg amputation was in deep distress and was not cooperating during the rehabilitation process despite several attempts by our team. We had an idea to facilitate interactions with Ramesh, a boy with a double limb amputation whom we had trained to use a wheelchair. Ramesh explained to her how rehabilitation had helped him, and this was the turning point for the woman to agree to participate in her own rehabilitation process. Not long after that, one of the most unforgettable incidents occurred during the second earthquake on May 12, 2015, when Ramesh transferred himself from his bed to his wheelchair and was able to secure himself in the safe zone downstairs due to the training we had given him just a few days back. I still remember him expressing, with his eyes full of tears, “I would have gone into shock if I didn’t have the wheelchair and the ability to use it to get to safety.” This made me more dedicated and proud, because I felt the immediate impact of my work on the ground.
(Sunil Pokhrel – right – assists a patient during a physiotherapy session)
(Sunil Pokhrel – right – assists a patient during a physiotherapy session)
© HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL
Today, more than a year after the earthquake, many Nepalese still live with the nightmare of the catastrophic disaster. Through Handicap International, I support physiotherapists based at six earthquake-affected districts. After seeing a gradual decline of patients in Kathmandu hospitals, our focus shifted to the homes of survivors to ensure follow-up care. Rehabilitation requires time, and therefore continuum of care is very important. Rehabilitation units in these districts are providing follow-up care in close collaboration with the Nepalese government through the support of organizations like DFID and USAID.
Though the earthquake was catastrophic in terms of loss of life and property, it provided solid evidence on the importance and relevancy of rehabilitation services in Nepal’s healthcare system. Currently the government of Nepal is working to define long-term strategies and plans for healthcare. Together with HelpAge International, we at Handicap International are providing the technical back up on this work so that health and rehabilitation issues of people with injury/disability and senior citizens are well addressed.
I do not have any regrets on losing an opportunity to present an abstract paper at my first international conference. More opportunities will arise. In fact, I have been selected as a speaker on the symposium titled Physiotherapy in Disasters in July 2017, in Cape Town, South Africa, during which I am going to share my experiences and lessons learned from my involvement after Nepal’s earthquake with the world.
(Sunil Pokhrel with a patient in Nepal)
© HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL
For almost 50 years, Landesa has worked to provide secure land rights to families in the developing world. To date, these reforms have helped “alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and ease conflict over land.” With a presence in over 50 countries, the organization seeks to advance and raise awareness around all facets of land rights, from food security to women’s economic empowerment to agricultural productivity. Landesa was awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2015 for “partnering with governments to help provide secure land rights to an estimated 115 million families since 1967.” Through research, partnerships and innovative programs around the world, the organization is a leader in the field of sustainable development.
Partnerships and Programs
Landesa partners with governments, local communities and other stakeholders to carry out its programs and advance legal and policy reforms. Government partnerships are crucial to implementing this work, as is a deep understanding of the respective country’s culture and history.
One such partnership in India with government agencies led to an estimated 500 people receiving legal aid from trained paralegals and their local government partners. Another collaboration between Landesa and Namati, a grassroots legal organization, resulted in a joint report from the organizations, highlighting the importance of pro-poor land policy in Myanmar, a prominently agrarian society. The report explores ways for farmers to advocate their land rights and delves into data and fieldwork in the country. By collaborating with various NGOs, government agencies and local communities in myriad capacities, Landesa demonstrates how partnerships are vital to advancing secure land rights for long-term sustainable development.
Landesa and the Hilton Prize Coalition
Landesa remains committed to the goals of the Hilton Prize Coalition, most recently through its involvement in the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program. In 2016, Gloria Jimwaga completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship at Landesa in Seattle, conducting desk research for the organization’s Center for Women’s Land Rights. She examined large-scale land-based investment in Tanzania and its implications for women’s land rights in the country. “The fellowship is a great way to learn how to incorporate gender relations within the issue of land rights,” says Gloria. Through presentations, networking opportunities and mentorship, Gloria gained a great deal of knowledge not only about Landesa and its work in Tanzania, but about the organization’s global footprint and extensive resources.
Read more about her experience here.
(Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow Gloria Jimwaga with Landesa Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Roy Prosterman)
Ms. Houda El Joundi recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship through Handicap International, an NGO supporting people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations living in conflict, disaster zones and in situations of exclusion and extreme poverty. Houda graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in May 2016 from Kenyon College, where she studied Economics and Chinese. In this blog post, she writes about Handicap International’s programs as well as the campaigns she worked on throughout her Fellowship.
Two years ago, I came across Handicap International (HI)’s projects in Morocco, which is my home country. It was one of my first encounters with any substantial efforts being deployed to improve accessibility and rehabilitation services for people with disabilities in the country, and I learned about HI’s work advocating for disability rights as well as political, social, and economic inclusion.
One in four households in Morocco is affected by disability. Despite governmental efforts, people with disabilities are still heavily excluded from development. This is an infringement of their human rights and an equal hindrance to Morocco’s development, at a time when the country is undergoing a democratic and social transition requiring all factions of society to join forces and work together. Unfortunately, Morocco is only one of many developing countries where people with disabilities lack their basic rights of active participation and access to services. HI works in Morocco as well as in over sixty countries to improve the lives and livelihoods of people with disabilities, putting disability at the forefront of the development agenda.
Both my passion for HI’s work in promoting the rights of people with disabilities and my commitment to international development found solid ground this summer when I was named a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with Handicap International US. I was provided with an insight into the behind-the-scenes work of international development. It was fascinating to see how the values and mission of the organization translated into the everyday work and interactions of the HI-US team.
Throughout my fellowship, I learned a great deal about the history and comprehensiveness of HI’s work. HI was initially founded to fill the gap in humanitarian action and ensure that help was provided to the most vulnerable groups, including but not limited to people in situations of extreme poverty and people facing discrimination and exclusion. Through its projects, the organization aims to create sustainability by emphasizing the importance of local civil society organizations (CSOs) and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) in the development process, and prioritizing capacity-building efforts. As such, HI ensures that local organizations and local staff in the countries in which it operates are partners and active participants in its inclusion, rehabilitation, prevention, and advocacy projects.
I was fortunate to assist with the launch of the Stop Bombing Civilians campaign; a powerful campaign the organization is carrying out as part of its advocacy efforts to ban the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This campaign complements HI’s 30 years of advocacy work against anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions, which are weapons that are killing, maiming and displacing people daily in different parts of the world. These efforts have led to the creation of the Ottowa Mine Ban Treaty of 1997 and the Convention of Cluster Munitions (the Oslo Treaty) in 2008. The Stop Bombing Civilians campaign hopes to enforce international humanitarian law (IHL) and put an end to the unacceptable targeting of civilians in armed conflicts.
© PASCAL GRAPPIN / HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL
(HI’s annual Pyramid of Shoes campaign encourages communities to mobilize against landmines and cluster bombs – each shoe represents a life or limb lost to a landmine or cluster bomb)
My Fellowship has given me an appreciation for and a familiarity with the magnitude and range of HI’s development and emergency work. It has given me the opportunity to get a closer look at the various programs the organization is involved with, from exclusion to landmines, and the innovative and efficient ways in which it is addressing these issues. Handicap International is truly filling a gap in global humanitarian action.