The integration and social inclusion of migrants and refugees has always been one of the core issues of our Master of International Cooperation Sustainable Emergency Architecture. One of the aims of our approach is to overcome the emergency approach in the refugee reception model and find new sustainable solutions that are linked to spaces and needs at the urban scale. We spoke to former student Fabiano Sartori and his current role as Environmental Field Adviser for the UNHCR Brazil Operation at the border to Venezuela, where his task is to identify and mitigate the environmental impact of humanitarian crises and emergency response, thereby creating opportunities for both immigrants and the host community for income generation, technical training and development. He also told us how our master program allowed him to combine his previous professional experiences and academic studies and provided the basis for his career change.
Year of Graduation from Program: 2018
Internship placement: Office of Displaced Designers (Lesvos, Greece)
Current Occupation: Environmental Field Adviser
Location: Brazil, on the borders with Venezuela
Area of interest/specialty: Environment in Humanitarian Action, Sustainable Refugee Camps, Emergency Architecture, Forced Displacement and Migration
Professional goal: Advocate for, and contribute to guarantee the rights of the environmental and climate refugees.
What have you done since graduating from our program?
After finalizing the internship at the Office of Displaced Designers, in Lesvos, Greece, I came back to Barcelona. There, I started to work for the City Resilience Profiling Programme (CRPP), which is part UN-Habitat, on the development of the City Resilience Profiling Tool and its application on the partner city of Maputo, Mozambique. I went to Brazil to enjoy the holiday season while contributing to CRPP remotely. However, in February, I was selected for my current position, Environmental Field Adviser for the UNHCR Brazil Operation in response to the Venezuelan situation.
Tell us a bit about your current job.
The position is part of a global project denominated“Strengthening national capacity to address the environmental impacts of humanitarian responses to population displacement in selected countries”, and it is the result of an agreement between UNHCR and UN-Environment. I am part of the UNHCR team based in Boa Vista, Brazil, working on the cities of Boa Vista and Pacaraima (Venezuela/Brazil border), Manaus, Belém and Santarém, and counting on the technical guidance of the Disasters and Conflicts Programme Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNEP). My function, as a consultant, is to identify, mitigate and reduce environmental impacts generated by both the humanitarian crisis and the emergency operation, developing strategies to improve the level of sustainability of the Operação Acolhida, as it is called. That is exactly why it is an amazing opportunity to combine my experiences as an architect, as an environmentalist, and with forced displacement and migration. In this context, we aim to create opportunities for beneficiaries and the host community in terms of income generation, pacific coexistence, technical training and development. In essence, it is a process of mainstreaming environment in humanitarian actions, similar to what has been done with gender. It is about making decisions through the lens of the environment.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of your job or of working in development in general?
Ideally, the humanitarian response should evolve gradually, in phases, from the early emergency response to development. However, in practice, what happens is that we are forced to address and create solutions for issues related to the emergency phase, and to the development phase, in parallel, which imposes challenges in terms of management of a crisis. Additionally, although creating technical solutions in contexts marked by constraints is already a challenge, I would argue that the political environment and the coordination of all actors involved in such a complex operation are the key issues. I have been investing a significant part of my time negotiating. If the negotiations do not flow in a positive way, it does not matter how good the technical solution is.
What are the most important lessons you have learned throughout your career?
After working on the private and public sectors, and as an entrepreneur, I am finally on the humanitarian field, which I can consider as my fourth career. The thing is that what normally makes us absolutely frustrated does not change that much from a sector to another. Therefore, my way of dealing with it is to hunt for job opportunities that give me the feeling that my work, even though small, is relevant, and can generate a positive impact for those in need. If tomorrow I realize that I am not generating this impact anymore, it is time to move on. But perhaps the most important lesson is that we need to balance good doses of dream and reality, of utopia and pragmatism because that is the only way to believe that it is possible, and to do something in such an unjust, unequal and cruel world.
Tell us one of your most memorable experiences related to your work.
Recently, as a result of a storm, an emergency operation was performed inside of the emergency operation. I joined the Shelter Unit team on assembling Refugee Housing Units in one of the 13 shelters. After hours of hard work, side by side with the beneficiaries whose workforce was fundamental to accomplish the task, some kids, by their own initiative, started to collect all the trash, organizing the site, organizing their temporary home, and showing an amazing level of conscience and responsibility. It was such a simple and memorable moment. The kind of experience capable of restoring our faith in humanity.
In what ways did the master program influence your professional life?
I chose this program with a clear strategy in mind, but not sure if it would work, of course. I was searching for a career shift and thought that this Master could work as a shortcut. It worked exactly like this. Not only the experiences in Ecuador (workshop), Lebanon (Thesis’ fieldwork at a Palestinian refugee camp) and Greece (internship) were fundamental to open the doors for my current position, where I have been combining all my professional and academic backgrounds, but also the theoretical bases gained on the program facilitated considerably my adaptation in a new working context.
What advice would you give to our students or anyone interested in a similar career path?
Chances tend to be higher if you have specific fields where you would like to work within. This is my first contract on the humanitarian field but it is my third opportunity to emerge in refugee contexts. Therefore, make decisions on your thesis and internship topics based on where you want to be after the Master, simple like this. Secondly, do not be afraid of changing your career. The experiences and knowledge accumulated in different fields are not only useful on our daily routine but also can be valued by recruiters, since the humanitarian and development fields of work are multidisciplinary in nature. Finally, if you have the means, and wants to work in an emergency context, just go there. Arriving on the field can be a good strategy to be hired since organizations, sometimes, needs someone to start today!
Featured Image: A Venezuelan boy sits outside the shelters in Abrigo One in Boa Vista by michael_swan, Creative Commons licensed