CCPA Summer Series 2019: Physicians for Human Rights

CCPA Summer Series 2019: Physicians for Human Rights

By Isabel Clements

This summer, I’ll be working with Physicians for Human Rights, a non-profit organization located at home in NYC. Although based in the U.S., the NGO documents human rights violations across the world and empowers local communities in addressing these atrocities. In my role as Arabic-Speaking Investigations Intern, I will be researching the mercurial conflicts in Syria and Yemen. In particular, my research will address attacks on healthcare and medical aid in the two countries. Should a video of a recent bombing of a Syrian medical point be posted on YouTube, it will be my job to “decode” the footage and figure out what is being seen and heard (albeit with a lot of support from my colleagues).

I have been told that the organization has not hired a non-native speaker for this position in the past, so I am anxious to perform my job thoroughly and immaculately, given that I am still learning Arabic. A mistake in translation could be harmful or misleading, so there will be a lot of pressure on my Arabic skills. Hopefully, this will lead to language acquisition and increasing fluency on my part! Moreover, I am much more versed in Syrian dialect than I am in Yemeni Arabic, so the notion of reviewing documents and media from Yemen is somewhat formidable to me. All in all, it will be an intellectual challenge, but I’m prepared to learn! Several of my colleagues in the research department will be native Arabic speakers, so I am relieved to be having their support. I am excited to be working with a diverse group of people with myriad talents on such an important issue.

The conflicts in Syria and Yemen have plagued the populations of these two countries and haunted the world, and have come to my attention in a new way in my Middle Eastern Politics class with Professor Sofia Fenner. The bloody course of brutal civil wars in these respective countries has become increasingly visceral for me as I have befriended families from both regions, through my work with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. I feel it is my duty as a student of the Arabic language, and as a humanitarian, not only to be aware of the events in these countries, but also to contribute my abilities to ensure that they are recorded and understood. The opportunity to help document the daily horrors of war in these countries is a heartbreaking yet singular one. In this internship, I expect to develop a deeper understanding of the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, which morph by the day.

Although I expect that this will be emotionally difficult work, I am looking forward to witnessing the gears behind NGO work, and am thrilled at the opportunity to participate in an exceptional effort. I am super appreciative to have been sponsored by the CCPA Liberal Arts in the Workplace fund, which has allowed me to put both my Arabic skills and my passion for social justice to good use!