Beginning in the summer of 2018, the Wheaton College Graduate School will be offering a M.A. in Humanitarian Disaster Leadership. According to the Wheaton College website, the program is designed to help students enter humanitarian and disaster relief fields with a Christian perspective. Geared towards both international and domestic relief, this degree is targeted to help graduates enter into jobs such as international humanitarian aid, domestic disaster relief, emergency management, disaster ministry, non-profit, justice, refugee care and homeland security. The classes offered respect these careers and focus on how to respond to these disasters as men and women in Christ, aid in the relief and rebuild the communities affected.
According to the “Architectural Digest,” as of Tuesday morning, Irma left over 15 million without power in Florida alone, with over a million more in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. 5,000 were evacuated from the Bahamas, the largest evacuation in island history, and over 6.3 million were told to evacuate across the state of Florida. According to the New York Times, after Harvey, over 40 percent of buildings in Harris County, Texas were reported by FEMA to have flooding damage. With the southern coast of the country rocked by two record-breaking hurricanes, hundreds in the disaster relief field are being called to help. As trends in record-breaking storms continue, many argue that the need for careers in the disaster relief field is increasing.
Irma, Harvey, the forest fires in the Pacific Northwest and the two devastating earthquakes in Mexico have left North America in need of rebuilding. According to ABC News, the occurrence of back-to-back storms along with the fact that many trade workers left the industry permanently after the housing bubble burst nearly ten years ago, the nation is in short supply of carpenters, electricians and other skilled workers. Jay Beirne, a New Jersey native in Florida overlooking electrical grid work, told the Record that after the storm, four million people were left without power. That makes the power losses caused by Irma the largest single event in terms of effecting electric grid loss in Florida history. Workers from all over the country were summoned earlier this week to help restore power to the affected areas.
According to Greenberg, a Wheaton professor in the geology department, because “the best science indicates that severe weather events should increase with time, as well as the human population… it only seems logical that the mission of HDI and other such organizations should also be more greatly needed with time.” Although so far the core purpose of the HDI program is different forms of psychological assistance such as post-trauma counseling and mental-emotional services. Greenberg agrees that these are critical parts to rebuilding, but would love to see the program shift into an interdisciplinary focus with medical relief, structural rebuilding and even post-disaster redevelopment mitigation.
According to the Wheaton College website, the program is designed to send out people to help with these events, “equipped to lead with faith and humility, use evidence-based practices, and serve the most vulnerable and the Church globally.” Along with sending out Christians with the intent to aid those in need, the program is also hopefully a preparation for future doctoral studies in related fields after the department opening in the summer of 2018. Jamie Atten is the founder of HDI at Wheaton and this past weekend was in Houston with the HDI team surveying damage before hosting Spiritual First Aid training in the area on Saturday afternoon. A quote from Aten on the Wheaton College Instagram page comments on the severe damage pictured saying, “This isn’t just debris on the side of the road, these are people’s lives and memories we are seeing.” According to Aten, this program is “the first graduate program to emphasize both humanitarian and disaster preparation with a focus on faith-driven leadership” and offers courses in theology and intercultural communication taught by professionals and faculty from various disciplines. HDI is also currently engaged in research and field projects, such as the recent trip to Houston for Harvey care and training, as well as an upcoming trip to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Aten’s hope for these projects is that students will be able to get involved with the program’s many partner organizations world-wide as well as help the people affected by global disasters in the field.