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Members’ newsletter, August 2020

Hello TNH member,

In this month’s newsletter, we share with you a note from one of our editors, examples of our impact, and a profile of one of your fellow members. You’ll also find details about our first-ever, members-only readers’ salon. Here’s a rundown of our goings-on and what we’re watching:

Notes from the Nairobi desk |

Hello from Nairobi. My name is Obi (can’t avoid that alliteration, so just going for it). I'm the senior editor for Africa at TNH. 

Right now, I’m looking into the impact of Kenya’s COVID-19 lockdown on the urban poor. So I’ve been stomping around the informal settlement of Kibera, where 170,000 people are squeezed onto a neglected, polluted patch of public land. The COVID hit has been pretty bad – 30 percent of low-income workers have lost their jobs in the past three months. But you can’t help but be impressed by the resilience of the informal sector and the “mama mboga” traders. They’ve tightened their belts and just kept going. You get the sense that with better targeted cash transfer programmes and an injection of a little working capital into places like Kibera, this huge hand-to-mouth economy could drive recovery. Alas, it’s the tiny formal sector that wins the government’s attention.

On my desk is also a story exploring the under-reported violence and displacement in northwestern Nigeria. I’ve been following Boko Haram for a while in the northeast (I’m writing a book about it, in fact), but the northwest seems a different kettle of mayhem – a toxic amalgam of banditry, jihadism and government failure. It’s a really complicated issue. So there’s been lots of back-and-forth with the freelance journalist in Nigeria to get the on-the-ground reporting right.

Also on my to-do list is a new post-conflict, peacebuilding stream of reporting I’m spearheading. The idea is to investigate what sustainable peace looks like and how atrocities can be prevented – and to push back against the dominant approach to conflict reporting: “If it bleeds, it leads.” At the moment we’re spitballing coverage ideas, and would welcome your thoughts on this – and any other humanitarian issues you feel we should be exploring.

 – Obi Anyadike

Join us for the first ever TNH Reader Salon |

You are warmly invited to the first ever TNH Reader Salon on Friday August 21 from 3-4pm CET. 
 
The TNH Reader Salon is a space for an informal, intimate conversation about a TNH story or body of reporting. Think of it like a book club that brings together TNH readers from around the world to meet, chat, and share thoughts and ideas about something you’ve read.
 
For the first Reader Salon, hosted exclusively for our members, we’re taking our Rethinking Humanitarianism series as a starting point for a conversation and then throwing it over to you for a free-flowing discussion about the topic in hand.
 
This will be an online discussion, but one that’s like being in your living room with friends and a glass of wine or cup of tea — and rather than listen passively to panelists, we’ll invite you to engage directly with the brains behind the series: TNH Director Heba Aly, and aid worker and professor Jessica Alexander, author of Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid, who is coordinating the Rethinking Humanitarianism series for TNH. 
 
In the lead-up, we encourage you to read this article by Jessica: COVID-19 changed the world. Can it change aid, too?
 
Will this pandemic be a turning point? Will humanitarianism make necessary improvements? Or will change remain largely rhetorical? What can we learn from how humanitarianism managed to change – or failed to do so – in the past? Will this time be different? 
 
Want to join? Use this form to sign up [members only]. We want to keep these conversations intimate, so places are limited. Be sure to get in early and please only sign up if you are sure you’ll be able to attend. 
 
We look forward to seeing you at the first ever TNH Salon!

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Impact report (aka why we do what we do) |

Aid scam in DRC
In case you missed it, we published an exclusive investigation in June which followed more than nine months of work: Congo aid scam triggers sector-wide alarm. The story highlights how aid funds believed to total several million dollars were diverted from displaced people and vulnerable communities in DRC, in a scam that has shocked senior humanitarian officials and exposed deep-rooted problems with the way aid organisations fight corruption. 
 
Following publication, the United Nations responded with an official statement referring to our reporting and promising to carefully consider any recommendations to improve its performance in Congo. The Danish Refugee Council also issued a statement on its potential involvement. The investigation was cited or linked to by Agence France-Presse, Reuters, The New York Times, Africa Radio, BMJ, Afrikarabia (a blog dedicated to DRC coverage), the Global Investigative Journalism Network, and more. 
 
This investigation, among others, was cited in recent parliamentary hearings in the United Kingdom on UK aid and sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as a recent Transparency International webinar.

Here’s what some people are saying about it.

Not voiceless
We also published a poignant diary from Dr Ammar Derwish, a Yemeni doctor who has been documenting the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on his community. As coronavirus spread in the country and his home city of Aden, Dr Derwish bought his own supplies to treat his friends, family, and neighbours. He helped them in the stifling hot Aden summer, even after he himself got sick, and he wrote down every detail. Following publication, Dr Derwish was contacted by the BBC, PBS, NBC, and many more outlets for interviews and readers had a lot to say about his moving account.
 
“As journalists we claim to ‘give a voice to the voiceless’ yet rarely allow subjects of our reporting to speak for themselves let alone hand the pen to them. This is the diary of Yemeni doctor @AmDerwish. Not voiceless. We just need to listen. Bring tissues.” – Iona Craig, renowned journalist covering Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula.
 
Rethinking Humanitarianism and #BLM
We have gotten tremendous feedback on our 25-year anniversary series, “Rethinking Humanitarianism”, which is examining the past, present, and future of crisis response, as COVID-19 and a resurgent #BlackLivesMatter movement force a rethink in the sector. Our event “When the West falls into crisis” – unpacking the hypocrisy of Western aid and its neo-colonial roots – attracted 2,000 attendees and will be used by a major international organisation as an inquiry example into racism in its leadership course (check out our key takeaways and feedback from readers). One of our analyses, on how the global COVID-19 pandemic could transform humanitarianism forever, is reportedly already informing strategy meetings of NGOs. Another story in the series was co-published by the UK newspaper The Independent. Al Jazeera also appears to have followed our lead with similar reporting.
 
“COVID-19 changed the world. Can it change aid, too? This totally resonated with me: an "industry of highly skilled professionals who are so reflexively self-critical that they often lament their own identity and purpose." – Yvonne MacPherson, US Director, BBC Media Action
 
Upcoming in the series, we will be featuring short profiles of "New Humanitarians" – people and institutions outside the traditional aid sector – who are breaking boundaries and doing aid differently. So please shout with any ideas on who we can profile
 
As a part of our coverage of Black Lives Matter and aid, we published an exclusive report on how Médecins Sans Frontières has “failed people of colour, both staff and patients”, “failed to tackle institutional racism”, and is part of “white privileged culture”, according to an internal joint statement to staff from its president and an international board member obtained by TNH. The piece reportedly sparked a push inside MSF to tackle institutional racism and colonialism, and really resonated with staff, who contacted us with feedback and to share their experience of racism within the organisation. The issue was covered by The Guardian two weeks later.
 
Lots more interesting Rethinking Humanitarianism content is planned for the coming weeks that we hope will inspire some thoughtful discussions [feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts and any tips worthy of investigation].

TNH in the wild (from our living rooms)

Since the beginning of June, TNH staff and correspondents have been interviewed about our coverage by the BBC, Al Jazeera’s Inside Story, and Vybez Radio in Kenya, and provided insights to the peacebuilding organisation International Alert.
 
We spoke at the launch of the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP)’s annual report on the use of cash in the humanitarian sector; the launch of the latest Global Humanitarian Assistance report about donor trends; and the first-ever virtual conference run by and for refugee women, featuring – among others – Madeleine Albright.
 
We also spoke to students at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights and the International School of Geneva.


Recognition |

TNH correspondent Verena Hölzl is a finalist in the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Awards category for Excellence in Human Rights Reporting for the report “Male rape survivors go uncounted in Rohingya camps”. Other finalists include AFP and VICE News. This month marks three years since the current exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar began. Keep an eye out for Verena’s upcoming story, which will explore Rohingya perceptions of international justice – and concerns that expectations are unrealistically high. If you’re a journalist or academic and would like to draw upon our contributors or our in-depth coverage, please do write to us.
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Meet one of your fellow members... |

This month we sat down, online, with Roopan Gill, a doctor who was in Yemen when coronavirus and lockdowns hit the world.


How did you get started working in the humanitarian sector?
By training, I am a doctor, specifically an obstetrician gynecologist. My journey with the humanitarian sector started in 2014 when I started my masters in public health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Ebola had just hit West Africa hard and it was a topic of conversation in all our classes. It was unclear to me how exactly an obstetrician gynecologist fit into the humanitarian response mechanism. It seemed natural for emergency medicine doctors, surgeons and anesthesiologists, but sexual and reproductive health wasn’t exactly considered a humanitarian issue. But as I read about women being neglected during the Ebola crisis, I felt there was a role for me in the humanitarian sector. 
 
We are making progress in many areas of maternal and newborn care but to truly reach gender equitable care and to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity to the numbers suggested by the SDGs, we need to address unsafe abortion care, access to family planning, and sexual violence. The challenges are greatest in the most fragile contexts in the world. 
 
I wanted to work and be where the need is the greatest. This led me to working with MSF, in Nigeria in 2018, in a mission to Yemen through the first six months of 2020 and now as the new medical advisor in obstetrics and gynecology for MSF France. 
 
How has coronavirus changed what you do? 
Well, for starters, what was meant to be a 3-month mission in Yemen turned into six, when the airport shut down and I couldn’t get out of the country. The main challenge of COVID-19 to our obstetrical care was insufficient equipment. I had one COVID-positive pregnant patient and found out later she died. Perhaps if we had access to a proper Intensive Care Unit, she could have survived. But there were no beds and our hospital was not equipped with an ICU or even enough oxygen. At first, we were treating COVID patients without Personal Protective Equipment because there just wasn’t enough of it. We didn't have any evidence of community transmission at the beginning, so business went on as usual. Integrating the cultural norms into how PPE is implemented was another challenge. How do you put on a viser mask over a burka without contaminating it? 
 
Our maternal mortality deaths increased after COVID-19 became more prevalent in Yemen, in part because of delays in seeking care in the hospital. My assumption is people were scared to come. It also became very clear to me how important it is that essential services continue to be provided during this pandemic: in those places that already have fragile health systems, COVID-19 could potentially destroy the population. 
 
 
What's next for you?
I have co-founded my own non-profit, Vitala Global, that is committed to co-creating solutions for women and girls living in challenging contexts so that they can access reliable information safe and equitable sexual and reproductive health care, specifically abortion. We are currently working with Venezuelan women to co-design a digital tool that facilitates access to a network of abortion and family planning organisations and resources, so that Venezuelan women and girls are empowered to make decisions about their sexual health. Our initial findings point strongly to the fact that women engage with technology when needing advice. We need to be more innovative as a sector on how best to respond to populations that are in the most fragile settings.
 
Thoughts on the sector and changes in the future? 
This is a very interesting time for the sector: We have an opportunity right now to look at what needs to change, if we can be truly honest about it. There are many players in this field and COVID-19 has humbled us to appreciate that what we may think is within our control is in fact not. The humanitarian sector really needs to integrate its work with development and reconstruction. We need to be more open and speak out more on injustices across the world. If we truly want all people to have access to just and accessible healthcare, we need to spend time to look deeply within the sector, going beyond band-aid solutions, working with communities and addressing the geopolitics that often make our jobs so difficult. 
 



Every month we feature one of our members – in a bid to help you get to know each other... Feel free to get in touch [by replying to this email] if you’d like to share your story or help us get to know you by filling out this short form.


What we're reading |

Here is some reading from the wider world that caught our attention:

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, by Walter Rodney (Verso Books) – This was recommended by several participants during our event “When the West Falls into Crisis”. It is proving to be magnificent in scope and dire in its perspective on complicity.

Calls for investigation into mysterious death of Italian UN monitor in Colombia, by Joe Parkin Daniels and Angela Giuffrida (The Guardian) – As recommended by a TNH member on Slack.

The Missionary, by Rajiv Golla, Halima Gikandi, and Malcolm Burnley (iHeartMedia) – Not so much what we’re reading, but what we’re listening to. This podcast narrates a story you might be familiar with, about missionary Renee Bach, in Uganda, accused of pretending to be a doctor and rumoured to have killed hundreds in her unlicensed clinic.
 
The Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli – For a bit of diversion, with a humanitarian slant, some of us are reading this award-winning novel about the migrant and asylum situation at the US-Mexico border (reviewed by the New Yorker here).

Have anything to add? Let us know what you're finding fruitful on the internet in the #whatwerereading channel on Slack where we’ve dropped in items like these, news that caught our eye, and more.
 


Help us spread the word |

You’ve asked what you can do to help spread the word about The New Humanitarian and bring more people into our community. So every month, we’ll give you a handy tip! This month: Twitter bios. A simple way to show your support is to include a short line in your Twitter bio, like this: 
 
Proud member of @newhumanitarian. Support independent journalism: tnh.news/join
 
Thanks, as always, for your support. Oh, and for those of you who are long-time readers, you may enjoy this 25-year anniversary look back at our Top 25 stories of all time.
 

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