Voices from the Field – IRC Blog

International Rescue Committee (IRC) Refugee, Staff & Volunteer Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Advocacy’

Trying to Save the World, One Congressman at a Time

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 24 October, 2008

Andrea Romero

Andrea Romero

Guest post by Andrea Romero, IRC Advocacy Intern

From April to August of this year I worked as an unpaid intern in the Washington, D.C. office of the International Rescue Committee. I traveled to Washington from Stanford University where I am a student because of my interest in the IRC’s global humanitarian work. I joined the IRC’s government relations and advocacy team that works with – and attempts to influence – U.S. government agencies, Congress, and international agencies.

The job of our team is to understand the needs of people who have been uprooted by war, civil conflict or ethnic persecution and then lobby the U.S. government to come to their aid. We work to garner support for IRC programs and for the issues we care about: health care, child survival, stopping violence against women, post-conflict development, and good governance. And if that isn’t hard enough, we work with government officials who are notorious for having a short attention span for anything that’s not easily translatable into a five-second sound bite.

The most important lesson I learned while working in Washington, much to my surprise, is that the majority of Congress people are extremely accessible and ridiculously ordinary. I do not say this out of disrespect or to shock anyone, but only to say that our government is more democratic and open than I ever thought it could be. Anyone can walk into a government office, in their home district or in Washington, and set up a meeting with their senator, representative or a member of their staff.

This fact completely changed my idea of government being detached from everyday life. This is why the IRC has advocates on behalf of our humanitarian efforts in saving those who need it most. Some members of Congress care about nuclear warheads, others care about energy policy, healthcare, farmers, pets, or what have you. The IRC, in particular, seeks out Congress people and state officials that care about refugees and the other victims of war who are left displaced, vulnerable and in need of help.

That means whoever is working in our office is doing the best to set up every meeting, attend every forum, basically be everywhere at once where people gather to debate U.S. policy toward global hotspots, in order to prove to politicians that we are doing the best job in the whole world at protecting refugees and seeing that the world’s most vulnerable have a place to turn. The IRC and many other NGOs and government supported organizations all have an interest in influencing the debate on humanitarian issues.

What makes the IRC different? Call me crazy, but I think the IRC has some of the most educated, driven, experienced and well rounded people in Washington, DC. We are no nonsense. We get down to the nitty-gritty programming and execution. We have to communicate back and forth on the ground to countless countries where our personnel are hard at work, often risking their lives for the lives of others. Our experienced field workers are the cornerstone of our organization upon which we ground our advocacy. Before we speak, we want our work to precede us.

Even with all this on their plates, my colleagues somehow manage to stay sane. They are working, quite simply to save the world. And they know that as long as they keep pushing, progress can be made little by little. Ever so slowly, that battle for awareness or funds or equipment that initially seemed as steep as Mt. Everest becomes more like a rolling hill.

There are billions of ways we can make change just by speaking our minds about issues to government decision makers. If it’s not starting at a monetary donation, it’s creating ‘awareness’ — and from there, hopefully, information and involvement will spread like wildfire. It’s really that simple. Go figure.


Posted in howtohelp, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Iraq Humanitarian Pledge: 10,000+ Signatures

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 24 July, 2008

Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC

Thank you to every single person who has signed our Iraq Humanitarian Pledge.

As you may know, for each person who signs the pledge, $1 in additional funds will be donated to support our work in Jordan and Syria where nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees are living in fear and isolation. So far we have collected more than 10,000 signatures and raised more than $10,000 in additional emergency funds. To help us reach our goal of 60,000 signatures, please spread the word to your friends today.

To learn more about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, you can read our recent Q & A about conditions on the ground, “Iraqis Living in Squalor – Q & A with IRC Program Director Aidan Goldsmith.”

Posted in emergencies, howtohelp, MiddleEast, refugees | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

1 Signature = $1 for Iraqis in Desperate Need

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 9 July, 2008

Photo: Gerald Martone/The IRC
More than 4 million innocent Iraqis are uprooted and in dire need of food, medicine, education, jobs and a safe place to live.

The IRC is on the ground providing lifesaving relief.  YOU can help.
For each person who signs the IRC Iraq Humanitarian Pledge, $1 will be donated to provide additional emergency services to Iraqis in need by one of our supporters.

Help us reach our 60,000 signature goal.  Please sign our pledge

Spread the word!  Add our widget to your blog, My Space page, Facebook profile (try the “My Stuff” app), etc…  Here’s the code:

<a target=”_blank” href=”http://ga3.org/irc/helpiraqirefugees.html”><br><img src=”http://img.getactivehub.com/gv2/custom_images/irc/iraqi_humanitarian_badge.JPG” border=”0″></a><!–</p>–>

Posted in emergencies, howtohelp, MiddleEast, refugees | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Speaking Up for Cyclone Victims [How to Help]

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 22 May, 2008

IRC Myanmar cyclone aid
Photo: The IRC
Two days ago Greg Beck, the IRC’s Asia regional director, submitted testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment. In the aftermath of the cyclone disaster in Myanmar, Greg delivered the following report and immediate call to action:

Over three days last week, the team delivered critical emergency supplies to hundreds of families, some 1,500 people, who had yet to receive any aid in Kunyangon Township. The materials included all locally-purchased mosquito nets, blankets, tarps, clothing, water containers, cooking supplies and candles … The IRC is also sending pre-positioned emergency supplies from its warehouse in Dubai. In all, the supplies will benefit an estimated 80,000 people.

As always, we are also seeking financial support from varied donors, including foundations and the concerned public … Most survivors have no access to clean drinking water, as virtually all water sources have been contaminated by human waste and decaying animal carcasses, and containers to collect rain water were washed away. It takes less than a spoonful of contaminated water for a person to come down with dysentery or cholera — highly infectious diseases that can quickly kill in the tens of thousands … In light of the magnitude of this crisis, a massive infusion of aid and experienced disaster response experts is needed to prevent a public health catastrophe.

We ask that the Congress include increased aid to the cyclone’s survivors as one part of the supplemental appropriations bill now under consideration … We ask for a great deal, but only because many, many lives are at stake and the United States can make a difference and save tens of thousands of lives. and the local activists and organizations working to assist them.

Please join us in speaking up for Burmese cyclone victims by sending this urgent message to your Senators and Representatives today. The full text of Greg Beck’s testimony is available here.

Posted in Asia, howtohelp, news | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

“We Are Listening” [How to Help]

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 28 April, 2008

Kevin Sites
Photo: DR Congo, courtesy Kevin Sites hotzone.yahoo.com
Karin Wachter, who serves as IRC’s Gender-Based Violence Technical Advisor, testified about sexual violence against women and girls recently before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. Here is an excerpt of Karin’s moving testimony on Capitol Hill:

I wish I could share with you the voices, concerns and hopes of the tens of thousands of women and girls who come forward for help, having been assaulted, tortured, humiliated and disabled simply for having been born female and getting caught in the cross-fire of war.

I started working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in eastern Congo, where, already back in 2002, women were talking about not the one time they were brutally sexually assaulted, but about the third or fourth time… In the past six years, I have seen firsthand the sexual and physical violence against women and girls in 10 different conflict-affected African countries. We would not be exaggerating to call this violence a global human rights, public health and security crisis. The perpetration of sexual violence is both a tactic of warfare, and an opportunistic consequence of conflict and displacement…

Addressing violence against women in conflict is smart foreign policy and the American people care more about this issue than we may think. When the IRC launched a web-based petition to help garner support for the IVAWA bill, a surprisingly high number of the 50,000 Americans who signed the petition also wrote a personal note, expressing their sincere concern about violence against women and girls in conflict. This unexpected outpouring of concern led us to launch a modest e-advocacy campaign, in which the general public was invited to write words of encouragement to Congolese women and the local activists and organizations working to assist them. Within 10 days of launching the campaign, we had 2,779 people who wrote messages of support in response to the crisis in DRC.

Please permit me to share two examples of what people wrote:

A woman from New York wrote: “There are few words that can express the nature of the horrible wrongs which you face every day. We all have the right to safety and respect. Continue to speak out of the injustices and the violations of your souls. We are listening…”

A man from Virginia wrote: “We are writing our leaders and sending funds to help. I have also included your story in my blog. I hope that we can make a difference. I am remembering you when I vote and write Congress. I hope that the U.S. can become a force to help you in the Congo.”

The full text and audio of Karin’s testimony is available on the Senate Web site. Please urge your Senators to support the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) by taking action now. You can also send a message to Congolese women who have survived sexual violence.

Posted in Africa, howtohelp, war, women | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »