Rebecca Chandler spent two years in Mongolia with the Peace Corps and this month the Telstar High School grad is one of five winners of the 2010 Sarlo Foundation Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service, an award out of the International Rescue Committee for whom she’s worked all over the world. Right now in Pakistan, she took a minute to share some of her favorite assignments and most interesting cuisine. (Incidentally, she does not recommend dining on sheep fat.)
Name: Rebecca Chandler
Hometown: Woodstock, Maine. Current residence: Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
Married, relationship, single? In a relationship
Did your humanitarian work start by joining the Peace Corps? (It) did.
What sort of posts have you held for the International Rescue Committee? I started as a child protection manager in Bahai, Chad, right on the border of Sudan. I basically trained a team of Sudanese social workers to identify and refer vulnerable children to the appropriate resources and worked with our youth team to organize youth group recreational and educational activities. I then worked as the child and youth protection and development coordinator in Darfur with IRC for 2 1/2 years. During this time I helped to oversee our education, non-formal education, and youth and livelihoods programs in five sites in Darfur. For the last two years I’ve worked on the Emergency Response Team responding to crises affecting children around the world. So far I’ve been deployed to: Liberia, Myanmar (Burma), Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yeman and now Pakistan
The work has to be demanding — what drives you to do it? I have the best and worst job in the world. The worst part is having to bear witness to human suffering, the best part is really being able to empower people and help them to actively improve the situation around them.
Had a favorite assignment to date? My favorite assignment so far has been starting a Family Tracing and Reunification Program in Haiti. Our team has been able to actively reunite almost 100 children with their families since the earthquake. That’s amazing.
Most remote location you’ve worked: I guess that depends on what you define as remote. My work in Chad, we were basically in the middle of the Sahara desert and had to ship in our food from a neighboring city that was about a two-hour flight away from us. There was no town before refugees from Sudan ran across the border and stayed there. The other most remote setting would be villages in Myanmar affected by Cyclone Nargis. I traveled village to village by boat and often met people who had never seen a foreigner before. While eating dinner in a local restaurant, the villagers would huddle around outside to see how I ate my food.
Most interesting food you’ve eaten in your travels: The Sudanese make a dish called “asida” which is basically ground sorghum (like wheat) mixed with water and cooked slightly in a bowl, then turned upside down — so it looks like a sticky white Jello mold. They then pour a meat sauce on the outside. The dish is served on a giant plate and everyone sticks their hands in, grabs a sticky ball of it, and then dips it in the meat and eats it. The taste isn’t that bad, but the consistency is really difficult to get used to. In Mongolia (in the Peace Corps) they used to always feed the sheep tail (basically just fat) to the visitor at the table. Nothing worse that a mouthful of sheep fat.
How’d you celebrate your Sarlo award? My mother and brother are going to meet me and my partner in San Francisco for the award. We’re going to eat seafood and have a blast.
Growing up, did you imagine a girl from western Maine would find herself spanning the globe like this? I didn’t. I thought that I would be a journalist or a photographer who maybe one day would travel to New York or Boston.