Fordham University and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) have officially entered a new phase of a decades-old relationship. On April 18, Fordham signed a University-wide agreement with the Jesuit organization that builds on the success of past collaborations with the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA).

For more than 20 years, Fordham’s IIHA has teamed with JRS to raise awareness about the plight of refugees through lectures, events, and on-the-ground training of students, teachers, and relief workers. Now, the new memorandum of understanding formalizes that relationship and outlines a scope of collaboration that will include project development, research initiatives, internship and professional opportunities for students, campus outreach for undergraduates and graduates, and a renewed emphasis on participants’ well-being while working in the world’s most troubled regions.

“We are sister and brother organizations—in this case, a Jesuit institution of higher education helping a Jesuit non-government organization—with the same pedagogy that informs both, same philosophy and values of helping those who are vulnerable and in need of advocacy,” said Brendan Cahill, executive director of IIHA.

Research Helps Identify Needs

The work began in earnest two years ago with fellowship funding provided to Nedezhna Castellano, Ph.D., by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. Castellano, who co-directed an IIHA course titled Education in Emergencies, generated a report identifying educational needs in three key regions of conflict: Chad, where there are more than 80,000 refugees; Lebanon, which continues to absorb refugees from the Syrian conflict; and Myanmar, formerly Burma, where ongoing political turmoil has claimed 500 lives since this past February’s military coup.

Cahill said that while he has long been in charge of connecting University talent to JRS needs, the report helped the institute home in on which Fordham schools could provide students for research, internships, and jobs. They include the Graduate School of Education, the Graduate School of Social Service, and the Graduate School of Arts and Science.

A Focus on Teachers

He noted that when unrest occurs, teachers of young people are often diverted from their calling.

“The first person who is pinched in a conflict is the teacher, often to be a translator or guide to outsiders,” said Cahill, noting that teachers often get pulled into work for NGOs. “But then you’re creating a deficit, a deduction of talent. If they’re no longer teaching, who is going to teach?”

Fordham has already created courses with IIHA for JRS personnel that help create best practices for training the next generation of teachers needed to fill that gap, he said. In addition, as caring for the caregivers has been identified as an important component of this work, Cahill has been working with the Department of Psychology on how to assist in the psychosocial care of the teachers. Cahill said that he’s also been having conversations with Debra McPhee, Ph.D., dean of GSS, who is interested in placing students in internships and jobs. He added that any research generated will likely be published by The Refugee Press, a new journal published by IIHA.

“I’ve always been a point of contact with the Jesuit Refugee Services, the tip of the spear of a relatively small institute affiliated with this very large institution, so those relationships and introductions have to be managed, on our side, and that’s what this memorandum has formalized,” he said.

Online Learning Increases Participation

Cahill added that an upshot of the pandemic has been that the pivot to online learning means that more students can participate than ever before. He noted that costs of visas and transportation alone often limited IIHA’s reach.

“There are a lot of opportunities that will come out of this because most of it is online, and by creating academically rigorous programs online you bring those barriers down,” he said. “We can now provide opportunities that some people wouldn’t have had at any other time.”

Those who would like to support the IIHA in this work can make a gift here