Thank you to the Spirit Award for providing me with the opportunity to attend the Humanitarian Response Intensive Course (HRIC) hosted by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. It’s been a long time dream of mine to attend this two-week workshop and it was made possible by the class of 2010.
HRIC brings humanitarians together from all over the world to learn, collaborate and their field of practice. It focuses on the tenets of humanitarian intervention and the historical context that informed these tenets. Unfortunately, humanitarian response has all too often been initiated without sufficient forethought resulting in further harm instead of relief. As doctors it’s so easy to jump at international opportunities to care for those in need, but HRIC provides a sobering reminder of the pitfalls that follow poorly planned interventions. Medical care is only as sustainable as the system providing it and unsustainable solutions may actually do more harm than good.
This year the workshop hosted 70 students ranging in age from 22 to 65, many of who have been practicing in the humanitarian world for decades. I was particularly struck by participants whose lives were directly shaped by conflict and disaster, forcing them to cut short their formal education in order to enter the humanitarian field. For example, there was a young Syrian at the workshop who had dropped out of university, moved to Lebanon and started working for an NGO to provide safe passage and shelter for Syrian refugees. He was one example of many HRIC participants who dedicate their lives to the humanitarian imperative:
That action should be taken to prevent or alleviate human suffering arising out of disaster or conflict, and that nothing should override this principle.
I was deeply moved by the embodiment of this principle among people who have been afforded lives far less flexible than mine. It was the most diverse and accomplished classroom I have ever been in. HRIC and the colleagues I met there inspired me to be pragmatic without sacrificing my ideals. This is an uncomfortable interplay full of compromise, but one that ultimately allows for evolution of my practice as a physician and a humanitarian.