JiSun Park

MSc International Disaster Management. Graduated 2016.

What inspired you to study this course?

JiSun standing and pointing

Before my first degree, I participated in a short-term mission to urban slums in the Philippines. During this time, I met people living in extreme poverty. After witnessing this, I felt obliged to study poverty and learn how peoples’ given socioeconomic status may affect multiple aspects of their lives. I was also drawn to how social and natural risks disproportionately affect society, and how human suffering can be alleviated.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I finally decided to pursue a career in humanitarianism. I came across the International Disaster Management MSc at HCRI after searching for academic institutions that offer training in becoming a responsible and professional humanitarian activist. When I came across a phrase, ‘Good intentions are never enough’ during the course orientation, I was sure HCRI was the right place.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

The field trip to Rwanda and Uganda was an unforgettable experience and formed the basis of my dissertation. The various modules on the programme enabled me to understand humanitarian activities from various aspects. I enjoyed practising observational study and analysing theories taught on the course in a real-world setting while having passionate and productive discussions with my peers. Now that I am working for a humanitarian project myself, I see the experience of the field trip during the course as the first, well-organised on-the-job training.

How have the skills and knowledge gained on the course helped you in your current role/career progression?

I am currently working as a Project Officer for a Menstruation Health and Hygiene programme in Nepal. In my role, I continue to question the sociocultural relevance and sustainability of the project. I gained timekeeping and monitoring and evaluation skills that are valuable in project management, as well as research skills and social scientific insights.

Moreover, I am thankful to HCRI for leading me to my lifetime research topic: risk perception and social and behaviour change communication. I always find issues like ‘how people perceive risk?’ or ‘how social and behaviour change take place?’ invigorating. 

Can you tell us about your experience in the humanitarian sector?

Jisun using a microscope

Shortly before graduating from my masters, I received a job offer from a Korean NGO. I was then dispatched to a rural community in Malawi to manage a community health project focusing on Malaria for two years. With the support of my supervisor, I was fortunate enough to engage in the development of a social behaviour change communication program, practising what I have learned about risk communication from the course.

Coming back from Malawi, I took part in writing endline reports for a school health programme in three regions in Fiji as a research assistant. I was responsible for managing the Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice survey. As I came from a social science background, working with medical professionals who are not familiar with the field of international development, humanitarian activities were a challenge for myself and the organisation to some degree. However, with this experience, I was able to improve my communication and facilitation skills.

Eventually, the project team was able to generate a significant synergy effect as a result of organising ‘lessons learned from the field visits’- a document dealing with Fijian school health issues from multiple aspects. The team shared it with the Ministry of Health after the completion of the project.

From January 2020, I have been working with a Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) project for adolescent girls in the far-western region in Nepal. In terms of budget, this is the biggest scale project that I have experienced, benefitting more people than ever before. It is also the most challenging stage in my career to date. This is mostly because issues concerning menstrual health and hygiene that are historically underrepresented in the far-western Nepali community have been deprioritised by the local government and the community to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disaster.

This meant that my efforts in advocating for ‘periods do not stop in a pandemic’ with online-based advocacy, and internal communication was compromised as I have had to serve both MHM and COVID-19.

In the future, I hope to turn the challenges I am experiencing from managing the project into an asset.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

While I am still in the early stages of my career, with less than five years of experience, I would advise that doing the right thing as a humanitarian activist requires you to believe in humanitarianism and social science insights. To be a successful humanitarian activist, you need to be able to prioritise when managing projects, have your definition of humanitarianism and understand what you are willing to compromise in a given circumstance, contingency plans, and political communication skills to deal with multiple stakeholders.