World Humanitarian Day

Humanitarian Aid Drop, Iraq © US Army

The United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day recognises those who face danger and adversity in order to help others; honouring both those who have lost their lives or been injured in the course of their work, and celebrating the ongoing work of humanitarian workers around the world.

The event takes place on 19 August each year, marking the anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003.

The MSc Violence, Conflict and Development postgraduate degree offered by SOAS University of London has been developed to meet the needs of people working, or hoping to work, in humanitarian organisations, international agencies, and NGOs.

The programme will be of interest to development practitioners, activists, and students with a scholarly interest in the patterns of violence internationally; in how violence effects development; and in how the uneven processes of development may both generate violence and generate mechanisms for containing violence.

For regular updates on the course check out the convenor’s blog.

SOAS MSc Development Studies student, Pankhuri Agarwal, recently won the HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust) Human Rights Award 2016 with her group Storygraphers for their documentary “Freedom Matters”.

Pankhuri talks about some of the influences behind the documentary.

What was it that first drew your attention to the issue of human trafficking?

“This is a very strange story. I was studying commerce and finance as an undergraduate back in 2011. In this same year, India won the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup. One day after India’s victory (3 April 2011), there was an article in India’s national daily titled, “Thanks to the match, sex workers have a day off”. At the time, I did not understand the headline because I had never thought about issues concerning human trafficking and forced prostitution. On reading the article, I felt so small to learn that some marginalised women of my country do not even get a day off on weekends or independence day, but because the men of the country were busy watching the World Cup, they got a day off.

“This triggered a spark from where it all started. I then started to read, take courses, talk to people, and work on the rescue and rehabilitation of women and girls from forced prostitution, child labour and forced marriage, and also to devote my time to issues related to the prevention of human trafficking and to advocacy in the field with academics and activists in India.”

How has your time at SOAS benefitted you?

“SOAS has been the most welcoming and vibrant institution I have ever been in, and it does not only impart knowledge, but gives a platform to innovate, think and delve into the roots of why things are the way they are. The academics are always open to discussions. This has broadened my understanding of development issues and, most importantly, helped me to link under-researched areas like human trafficking and slavery to wider issues of migration, human rights and how these are deeply embedded in an understanding of the political economy of development.”

I literally thank my lucky stars each day for being able to study at this great institution.

“SOAS has also given me a platform to take forward my vision with the documentary – of spreading the word on human trafficking and inculcating the belief that all of us, irrespective of our educational and professional background, can take steps against this largest transnational organised crime. When I came to SOAS in September 2015, my team back in India was working on editing the documentary. My first screening was in a tutorial group at SOAS in January 2016. My tutor was very encouraging even though I was a bit skeptical in screening it. Since then there has been no stopping. All my tutors have been so supportive on getting it screened.

“SOAS is like the place in the world where I belong. I may leave SOAS physically, but SOAS will always reside in my heart.”

What are your plans for the future?

“After my studies, I will continue to work against human trafficking, through both activism and research based advocacy. I also plan to continue my Masters dissertation to a PhD, which will hopefully make a contribution in related policy and advocacy.

“My long-term vision is to create a home for survivors, which is not simply a shelter, but their home; a place owned and sustained by them. I also intend to act as an interface between, and within, NGOs and other stakeholders, because the flow of information between different stakeholders needs to be enhanced if we want to expedite the process of fighting this crime.”

Pankhuri currently runs a blog and is working towards creating an online library of resources on the subject of action against human trafficking.

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