Peace Operations Student Bridges Field Experience with Academic Theory

Posted: October 19, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jocelyn Rappaport

Colin Chaperon has spent much of his life, one way or another, creating policy that provides stability. Growing up in Zimbabwe, he saw firsthand the beneficial work of the Red Cross, which provides support and services to people in need.

“I knew from an early age that I wanted to work for an organization that represented relief and aid,” says Chaperon, now a student in the School of Public Policy’s master’s program in Peace Operations.

Colin Chaperon with aid workers in Indonesia
Colin Chaperon (in red vest) with aid workers in Indonesia.
Photo courtesy Colin Chaperon

His involvement with the Red Cross began while he was attending the University of Florida, where he joined the local chapter. And seven years ago, he joined the Arlington County, Va., Chapter, where he is the director of operations for both the chapter and emergency relief operations for the Washington Metropolitan Area Consortium, the five local chapters in the National Capital Region.

In applying to the Peace Operations Program, Chaperon says, “My goal was to bridge my field experience with academic theory, broadening my understanding of the complex nature of providing assistance to vulnerable people given varying political, social and religious ideologies that we witness throughout the world.”

He notes that the program has exposed him to varying perspectives and ideologies in regard to providing assistance in cases of complex humanitarian emergencies.

“The diversity of opinions and experiences of the students who come from all industries has truly been an eye-opener,” he says.

This past June, Chaperon was deployed to Indonesia to assist the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ response to the 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

This devastating earthquake, which struck less than 18 months after the Indian Ocean tsunami, left many people throughout the country in need of food and shelter. Reports estimated that more than 5,000 people lost their lives, more than 38,000 were injured and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.

Chaperon was impressed by the strength of the Indonesian people. “The resilience of the communities is really amazing,” he says. “Life is continuous, along with the re-building.”

And more rebuilding came. On July 17, an undersea 7.7-magnitude earthquake, just more than 100 miles off the coast of Indonesia, set off another tsunami. This wall of water struck West Java, killing several hundred people and displacing tens of thousands more.

“People experienced a lot of anxiety and stress,” Chaperon says. “Many did not want to return to their homes out of fear of aftershocks and what might come next.”

The overall response to the earthquake and tsunami disasters represents an aspect of peace operations called Peace-Building under the Conceptual Model of Peace Operations. Such humanitarian or disaster-relief assistance falls outside of operations in response to war.

Responses to complex humanitarian emergencies also include many operations outside of armed conflicts that involve a vast array of specialized actors with specific capabilities and goals. In some cases, relief organizations are challenged with balancing relief activities with equally challenging vulnerabilities and threats.

“The American Red Cross responds to disasters both nationally and internationally,” says Chaperon. “This work demonstrates the interconnectedness of policy on many levels. It’s policy that affects individuals as well as nations.”

This article appeared in a slightly different form in the October 2006 SPP Currents.

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