Interview with recent IDHA alum Sittie Jamerah
Conducted by Ryan Heffron
Can you walk us through your background (i.e., where you’re from and what your educational path was growing up)?
SJ: ― My name is Sittie Jamerah, and I am currently working for the International Committee of the Red Cross as a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Field Officer, where I focus on the Accompaniment Program for the Families of the Missing during the Marawi crisis. I have been with the ICRC Philippines for three years as a resident staff. I graduated from Western Mindanao University with a master’s in clinical social work after receiving my bachelor’s degree in social work from Mindanao State University. I began my career as a clinical social worker in a tertiary hospital in Cagayan de Oro Medical Center, Inc., Philippines, and then continued my work with families in marginalized communities through the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program for eight years.
My life and career have been driven by a strong passion to alleviate the suffering of disadvantaged people. I have been trained to intervene in different situations, such as those faced by heads of families who are struggling to meet their basic needs, women and children who are victims of sexual abuse and other forms of violence; victims of armed conflict who lack the means to rebuild their lives, etc. I have attended a variety of workshops on crisis communication, disaster preparedness, and camp management training. I have provided support in the evacuation centers during the Marawi crisis, TS Sendong and TS Vinta and assisted in facilitating psychosocial sessions for the victims of those events. When I was in government, I served as the designated focal point for disaster risk reduction management programs.
Was there a pivotal moment in your life that sparked your interest and motivation to pursue humanitarian affairs as a career?
SJ: ―Yes. After spending eight years working in a marginalized community, I now see the world differently and have a new perspective on everything around me. I am more mindful of people’s daily struggles for existence. I was immensely motivated to advance in my career and work in humanitarian aid. I believe that it will allow me to help establish stronger connections with people who are in need, learn more about their resilience, and hear their aspirations for the future. Their individual stories are always fascinating to hear. It is unparalleled and incredibly gratifying to be able to contribute to this field where humanitarian efforts can significantly improve the lives of others by providing for their multi-layered needs and giving them access to basic services.
Why did you join the IDHA program?
SJ: — I believe that the IDHA program will provide me with a broad understanding of the needs of people affected by conflict, disaster, and displacement; provide me with the awareness and understanding required for effective service in emergency and protracted humanitarian crises; and provide skills in facilitating cooperation and dialogue that will be useful in future work, particularly on disaster-related crises as we don’t have many armed conflict issues but more on disaster-related crises.
Do you focus on any specific sector or personal mission in your career?
SJ: — Yes. I focus on the MHPSS support for families of missing persons. These families without knowing whether a loved one is dead or alive defies emotional comprehension (Boss, 2002). It is an agonizing experience that can paralyze the families of missing persons and leave them susceptible to a variety of mental health and psychosocial difficulties. Families commonly experience a desperate need not to forget their loved ones. They actively struggle to keep their memory alive despite the psychological and psychosocial difficulties that may result. Psychosocial and relational problems may also arise within families of missing persons or within their community. When this happens within a community, the families are often left completely isolated. The “accompaniment approach”, which is described in the Accompanying Families of Missing Persons handbook, was developed to respond in a holistic and multidisciplinary manner to the needs of families of missing persons. This is the program that I focus on at the ICRC Philippines.
How has the IDHA course informed your next steps? Any lessons drawn from the course, field trip, or lecturers?
SJ: — As a result of being accepted into the program, my self-esteem improved. Despite my limited experience, it was somewhat difficult but also fulfilling for me to attend class, complete weekly exams, write the academic paper, and take part in syndicate presentations. The security case studies, the subjects covered on field trips in Baqaâ Camps, and meeting with the parliament students from the camps and hearing about their aspirations for the future are all very inspiring. The presented cases of the crisis in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, and Ukraine, as well as the terrible refugee crisis, serve as a reminder of the need for more workers in this field. Their rights are continuously exploited, violated, and disregarded. As I focus primarily on the program which has been assigned to me, these issues are not frequently discussed at my current workplace.I am very grateful I was able to take this course since it broadens my perspective and inspires me to work even harder in my chosen field. My desire to continue working in the humanitarian area has grown stronger thanks to the course.
Education is considered a life-saving sector. It can help child soldiers, internally displaced persons, refugees and all those affected by emergencies to reintegrate back into society and overcome the negative effects that emergencies can have on people. Schools can provide safe spaces for children to build friendships, play and learn. In addition, education empowers students by giving them a voice, and a safe space to communicate their feelings and concerns. It is a basic form of Psychosocial Support for affected children. Furthermore, education can play a preventative role. Human rights education enables people to recognize they are rights-holders and to respect the rights of others. Education for peace and responsible citizenship can likewise promote peace and tolerance for others. Education is vital in building sustainable peace and development.
What are your favorite memories from the past four weeks in Amman?
SJ: ― The first time Gonzalo, the course tutor, tells me the results of my test is my favorite moment. He then inquired as to whether I was able to settle down after arriving, to which I said that I was attempting to make up for lost time. He went on to say that he believed I was managing it quite well because I did well on the test.
―My favorite moments were also teamwork and meetings with the Nairobi syndicate. I enjoyed the energy and the experiences of the diverse individuals in the room. When I struggle to understand the task that was given to us, they have been patient and supportive of me. I gained a lot of knowledge. I am proud of the fact that we completed the course without many problems, and if any do arise, we are able to handle them in a diplomatic manner.
― When we went to Wadi Rum with my classmates, that was one of my best experiences. I was initially hesitant to attend the trip due to my concern that, as the only Filipino, I wouldn’t be able to relate to them or socially interact with them. But I made the choice to go on the trip, and I’m glad I did. We had a great time, and thanks to the trip, I got to know them even better and form strong bonds with them. I got over my shyness and learned how to interact with individuals of different backgrounds.
What drives you to get out of bed each day and do this work?
SJ: Every day is an opportunity to learn something new; this is what gets me out of bed every morning. I am a naturally curious person, and I love to listen, hear different people’s stories, and learn from their experiences. I believe that not everyone has the chance to interact with and hear from those knowledgeable and brilliant instructors, so I really took advantage of the course. It motivates me thinking that I will gain the specialized information and practical experience that I need to effectively serve the populations affected by conflict, disaster, and displacement. I may not speak out much in our daily classes, but rest assured that what I learned in the course is significant and will be applied in my work.
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to share? This could be a fun fact about you, a favorite quote, etc.
SJ: ― If there’s someone I admire and want to follow, it is Mother Teresa. I admire her as she was an inspiration and light for countless people thanks to her big heart and dedication to helping those in need. She always seemed to know what to say to help encourage others to see the good in the world. Mother Teresa had a heavy influence on the world because of the work she did, and she channeled that into encouraging peace. She did not just encourage peace and love, she embodied it through her actions with the poor. Even though much of the world had resorted to hate during her life, she remained steadfast to her beliefs, and constantly advocated for peace and love, showing resilience. In being resilient, she fulfilled her purpose and not only advocated for peace and love but was an example of them as well. She believed in the dignity of every human being and worked tirelessly for improving the lives of the downtrodden. Her compassion touched and continues to transform the lives of people from varying faiths, nationalities and walks of life.
―A quote that I really like from Mother Teresa is, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” I find this quote to be pretty simple, but it has a significant impact. I see homeless children and elderly people on the streets from time to time. I feel sad as [I cannot help everyone] since I only have enough money for my family and myself. If only I were wealthy or a millionaire, I would establish a charity to help these people. However, giving this quote more thought, it actually makes sense. If I feed one person, there is one less hungry person in the world. We could feed more people on the planet if everyone adopted this philosophy.