In February 2021, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship through the U.S. Department of State to study for a master’s degree in the United States. It was an exciting opportunity, more so to pursue an advanced degree program in Emergency and Disaster management.
Emergency and Disaster Management is now fundamental to development and a critical area of study in Public Health. After the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola virus outbreak, I became interested in adding Emergency and Disaster Management to my community development work. My role in Sierra Leone’s Ebola response tested my resilience and leadership ability. It also taught me the importance of constantly honing skills for program delivery excellence, especially during challenging moments. After the response, my role was recognized with a global staff award as Individual of the Year. This inspired me to pursue an advanced study in emergency and disaster management.
Moving to the U.S. in 2021, I was determined to continue pursuing my passion for community and international development work, including public health, with a focus on emergency management. I wanted a professional academic credential with an appropriate, applied practical experience in emergency and disaster management. While in the U.S., I spent about five months going through some pre-academic courses, including a long-term English program at Georgia Tech. During that period, I constantly engaged with my sponsors in search of admission into a U.S. university. This was a critical moment; I experienced significant apprehension while trying to find a school that could offer a global transformative academic program. I had many options considering the vast number of universities in the U.S. I spent extensive time researching them to see what they had to offer. I was critical of almost all the options but further weighed them to help with decision-making.
I was enthused by the master’s program in disaster management offered by the University of Georgia, Institute for Disaster Management (IDM). The details of the program were very stimulating, especially the complementary practical training provided. I, therefore, wasted no time wavering further. Indeed, I made the right decision for my academic path. The two-year Master of Public Health in Disaster Management program offered by the Institute is a complete educational and professional training package. I had the best time and have no regrets regarding my bold admission step.
Interestingly, on the first day on campus, my doubt came back then looking at the front view of the almost square unassuming building and wondered if I would get the applied practical training to my master’s program. However, on entry and a tour of the facilities, including the warehouse, I realized how compact and equipped the Institute is to provide the experimental learning degree program. It is truly a one-stop learning center. During all my time at the University of Georgia, I only used the main library twice for study. At the Institute, every graduate student can access a space or cubicle to study and conduct research. You also have your instructors nearby to catch up on academic advisement and research-related discussions.
We are all aware that moving to a new country to study can be exciting and with some unexpected challenges that can be overwhelming with confusion and longing for my home country. At IDM, I found a home away from home. As an international student, the institution gave me the comfort and hospitality to settle in properly. I felt the warmth and friendliness of every staff member. I had amazing interactions with staff members discussing geopolitics and pertinent issues relating to global crises and emergencies. Irrespective of its focus on academic achievement, the institution promotes a positive relationship between staff and students and encourages feedback for better learning outcomes. The support received during my study duration was immense and instrumental for me to adjust quickly to the fast-paced learning environment. I made friends through social gatherings organized by IDM and got involved in major exercises, discussions, and conferences where I had the opportunity to expand my network, share experiences, and learn from experts in the field of disaster management and other public health thematic areas.
Over my two-year stay, the institution gave me the critical skills needed for decisions around the emergency management cycle of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The program blends theories, scenarios, and real-world exercises concerning crises, emergencies, and disaster management. I got the exposure needed to imagine various disaster scenes and appropriate responses to every scenario. The practical activities can be fun, with so much creativity in making a real-life chaotic disaster scene like those in some Hollywood disaster movies. At IDM, you’re encouraged to attend various trainings, including incident command system, decontamination processes, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), mass casualty response measures, triage processes, and operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) commonly known as drones.
The University of Georgia Institute for Disaster Management is a world-class institution for gaining knowledge on incident management approaches at local, regional, national, and international levels. The amount of work put in by the institute instructors to incorporate examples of global disaster incidents such as terrorism, biological attacks, mechanical failures, chemical spillages, and radiological and explosive events for student lesson learning is top-notch. As a result, I learned about and discussed response measures for various disaster management situations globally.
There is so much to gain from graduating from IDM. Apart from the graduate diploma, I acquired other professional licenses and certifications essential to the program, especially for concentration areas. These included Psychological First Aid, Stop the Bleed, Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, Basic Disaster Life Support (BDLS), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Independent certifications on incident management, mental health, and Geographic Information System (GIS) in disaster management.
Reflecting on my role as Program Manager during the Ebola response in Sierra Leone, I have realized how fundamental it is for development practitioners to gain knowledge in emergency management. We cannot discuss the sustainability of development programs in communities without considering policies and plans for the emergency cycle. It is crucial to discuss how communities can overcome and withstand unexpected shocks. During the Ebola outbreak, organizations faced significant challenges in sustaining their community development gains. Most of them were forced to close normal programs because of limited expertise in emergency management initiatives and how businesses and organizations can continue to operate after an emergency. Personally, for me, it was a struggle to cope. The emergency response process was new to me, especially considering the nature of the outbreak. It was challenging to mobilize a team and lead them into actions aimed at supporting remote communities to reduce the spread of the Ebola virus.
With the academic training received from IDM, I am confident and ready to join a host of public health specialists to contribute to international development initiatives and global emergency management processes. The world needs more experts in disaster management to support our fragile health systems, communities, and organizations in implementing structural and non-structural measures to reduce disaster impacts. We should never forget that disaster preparedness is everyone’s responsibility.