Thanks to a Jackson-Fosdick Memorial Scholarship, Pinar Ulumaskan, a Jackson School student earning her doctorate in international studies, spent summer 2017 as an intern at HÁWAR.help, an organization based in Berlin. In this first-person account, she shares her experience as the communications focal point on a high-profile human rights conference.
Raising awareness about the Yazidi minority
I spent summer 2017 interning with HÁWAR.help, a non-governmental organization based in Berlin. The organization emerged as a result of the ISIS attack on the Yazidi minority in Iraq’s Sinjar region in 2014. The goal has been to document and raise awareness about Yazidi women held captive and exposed to sexual violence by ISIS. Düzen Tekkal, the chairwoman of the organization, is one of the first to document the horrors of these attacks with her documentary film “HÁWAR – My Journey to Genocide.”
A Women’s Conference at German Parliament
The highlight of my internship was organizing the first international HÁWAR.help Women’s Conference in the German Parliament, aimed to draw attention to sexual violence as a weapon of war. As an NGO-driven event, the conference brought together members of the German policy elite and the international community to expand the discussion beyond specific regions and cases and put organizations working on this issue in conversation. German Chancellor Merkel delivered a key note speech at the conference.
Other guests included Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller, UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad and UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten.
Raising awareness through communication
The conference was a lasting experience, not only because of the impressive people I met, but because I was responsible for communication and correspondence with international guests. I translated several documents such as invitations, press releases and social media posts. I was also part of a private meeting at the German parliament, involving UN representatives and Yazidi survivors. I translated the conversation between Yazidi women, who had experienced sexual violence by ISIS, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. My translations between Kurdish, English, and German included testimonies of the survivors with details on the specific human rights violations that they had experienced. This was probably the most challenging part of my internship. Hearing first-hand accounts of women who have gone through such crimes deeply affected me and were hard to fathom. Seeing how this conference and HÁWAR.help’s mission empowers these survivors, on the other hand, helped me cope with the tragedies and atrocious crimes.
During my internship, I was exposed to various activities and assignments. I accompanied the chairwoman of HÁWAR.help to various public talks and screenings of her documentary. Some of these events were organized in cooperation with other NGOs that are working on similar issues. I was also exposed to project management in Germany as well as abroad. I helped prepare a trip to the U.S. which included screenings of the chairwoman’s documentary film at Harvard, Yale and the Holocaust Memorial Center in New York.
Continuing my engagement
The internship gave me insights into the work of the German Federal Government and UN Special Representative Pramila Patten’s office. Both the UN and the German Government offer positions that I would consider taking up after my Ph.D. I think my engagement this summer helped me establish relationships with both offices. Moreover, I gained insights into how an NGO establishes and maintains relationships with the policy world, civil society agents and the general public. As major newspapers and media outlets in Germany covered our conference, it was interesting to understand how engagement with social media as well as traditional media outlets unfolds from the perspective of an NGO.