Meet some of CARE’s humanitarian leaders

CARE is full of incredible staff, volunteers and partners that work hand in hand with women, girls and their communities around the world to save lives, defeat poverty, and achieve social justice.

Meet three of our inspiring humanitarian colleagues: Marilyn, Rosemary, and Mónica.

Marilyn Mhawej_web

Marilyn Mhawej
Senior Project Officer
Based in Lebanon

A typical day in Lebanon now starts with finding an open gas station before arriving at the office, after struggling all night with power cuts and private generator rationing and praying against getting sick because there’s a medicine shortage. After arriving at the office, I start the day with a nice cup of coffee with the colleagues, hoping everything will be better, before hitting the emails and the office work. Afternoons are mostly occupied with meetings before leaving the office around 5:30.

Lebanon has been facing a very deep and compounded crisis since October 2019 that has resulted in soaring poverty and unemployment with the Lebanese pound losing 90 per cent of its value and most sectors collapsing one after the other. I would rather call them areas of improvement instead of challenges because every day is an opportunity to learn something new or to do something in a better way. Currently funding constitutes the biggest challenge from my perspective as the needs are extremely high during this unusual situation in Lebanon, and the resources are quite limited. However, being able to support vulnerable families even with little resources is for me a rewarding action that I try to take home everyday.

Women and girls are still underrepresented in the community despite the efforts to lead an inclusive and non-discriminatory response. Barriers to participation of women and girls are often rooted in cultural norms disfavouring their involvement in activities outside their homes. In addition, men are perceived as the breadwinners which immediately positions them in a place of better access to assistance amid the emergency response.

I want the Canadian community to know that potential and willingness is there for the Lebanese population. What is lacking are the resources needed to lead effective and useful transformation amid the current socio-economic crisis.

Rosemary Samuel_2web

Rosemary Samuel
Project Manager (SRHR/GBV/WASH)
Based in Nigeria

In an emergency context, each day is often different. My primary responsibility includes providing overall leadership and direction to Government of Canada funded activities: Integrated Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Gender Based Violence (GBV), and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs, including timely planning, implementation, monitoring and coordination of project activities. I also spend quite a bit of time with external stakeholders that include local authorities, other non-governmental organizations, UN entities and civil society organizations. Furthermore, I spend a considerable amount of time in staff management, ensuring that CARE project staff under my supervision receive the support they need to achieve their personal and professional development objectives. I also work on project reports, manage the budget of the project, and knowledge management functions.

The greatest challenge for me is working in the very dynamic and rapidly evolving 10-year humanitarian crisis of North East Nigeria. Learning how to manage time and the expectations of beneficiaries, donors, partners, colleagues can be very challenging. The emotional toll of witnessing the challenges of millions of women and girls cannot be understated. While the impact of interventions like ours is easily demonstrated, it is heartbreaking to know that there are far too many who desperately require such assistance but cannot access it. A precarious security environment and the deliberate targeting of aid workers also poses serious challenges working in a crisis environment. Working long hours in a non-family duty station under such difficult conditions is also challenging for a mother with three young children.

The greatest rewards for me are working with people and saving lives by providing emergency Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) assistance, promoting and encouraging a life free from violence for women and girls through support to survivors, and also sensitization and raising awareness of gender-based violence in our communities (both host communities and internally displaced persons camps) that are affected by crisis. It gives me great joy seeing smiles on women and hearing from women that have not been able to bear children for years while trying to hold their babies, and preventing maternal deaths.

Women and girls progressively assume informal and sometimes formal leadership positions in their communities providing emergency response services and adding their voices in critical decision-making processes in their communities. Most commonly, women have evolved into leading community awareness raising about gender-based violations, access to sexual and reproductive health rights, and mentorship for young girls. Women volunteer their time in safe spaces as champions against gender-based violence, as lead mothers, caregivers, role models and community health volunteers as well as providing informal psychosocial support to their peers. Through their work with CARE Nigeria, women in Borno state, North East Nigeria have raised issues of violence against them to community leaders, mobilized themselves to support children who are out of school, and acquired skills such as village savings and loan activities through their solidarity groups. Women serve as first responders, community organizers and peace builders in emergency response.

Canadian feminist foreign policy is well regarded and welcomed. The humanitarian work is designed to save lives and alleviate suffering during and immediately after emergencies.

The crisis in Nigeria is multifaceted and its direct impact disproportionately affects women and girls. There is still along way to go in terms of restoring dignity, safety and the overall well-being of women and girls.

There is still need for:

  • Funding interventions that are aimed at supporting women’s leadership and involvement in transforming and influencing formal structures.
  • Funding for programs specifically for women and girls, especially gender responsive programs.
  • Mainstreaming of gender-based programs across all aspects of the humanitarian-development nexus.
  • Commitment to ensure that women participate in all decision-making processes in their communities.
  • Ending gender-based violence in communities.
  • Fund activities that will help build resilience and self-sufficiency for women and girls.
  • Fund sexual and reproductive rights programs.
  • Above all, consider long-term early recovery funding focused at stabilizing and helping women build residence from the shocks of the protracted emergency.
Mónica Tobar, CARE staff, Gerente de Calidad Programática y Movilización de Recursos.
November 2020. Quito, Ecuador.
Photographer: Ana María Buitron

Mónica Tobar
Program Quality and Resource Mobilization Manager
Based in Ecuador

I start the day by thinking on how we can improve the ways that we serve vulnerable populations, especially when it comes to protection and sexual and reproductive health, as well as innovative processes that contribute to improving migrant people’s quality of life. In addition, we seek joint solutions to enhance the humanitarian assistance staff’s teamwork, considering that staff is small for the quantity of people we serve: in two years, we have assisted approximately 200,000 people impacted by the Venezuelan and the COVID-19 crisis.

Some of the greatest challenges to respond to the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis are:

  • The Venezuelan crisis has been ignored compared to other emergencies around the world, even though it is the most important crisis in the region, and was already experiencing grave economic and social problems.
  • The lack of political will to legalize the migrant population in the country, despite the fact Ecuadorian legislation promotes universal citizenship.
  • Discriminatory and dismissive societal beliefs and practices prevent some people from living a life of dignity.
  • Limited economic resources to address the humanitarian crisis and support Venezuelan migrant population to earn an income.

Some of the greatest rewards:

  • The resilience of the Venezuelan population, especially of women, who started small businesses that allow them to support themselves and their families.
  • The determination and willingness of the migrant population to contribute to a country that also faces several challenges.
  • The humanitarian assistance program has managed to create social cohesion and integration, which allows for the exchange of knowledge and different experiences.

Experience has taught us that the vulnerability of migrant women is nothing compared to their tremendous potential to change their situation once they are supported and empowered. Women have the potential to challenge cultural norms, find ways to support themselves and their families, and create positive change within their communities.

Humanitarian work requires a lot of cooperation and many hands to help save lives. Empowering women, girls and young people to become change agents first requires their basic needs to be met, that their voices are heard, and that they have the tools they need to withstand crises and become more resilient.

If we strengthen humanitarian assistance programs, if we address social and gender dynamics, and if we call on decision makers around the world to acknowledge the needs of those affected by humanitarian crises, these populations will be able to achieve a life of dignity, contributing to their communities and building a better world for all.

CARE responds to emergencies all over the world, with a focus on the unique needs and rights of women and girls who are disproportionately affected by crisis.

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