The Taste of Humanitarian Aid

Monica Chan ’17, a mechanical engineering major from Singapore, interned as a SIG fellow at the Shelter and Settlement Section of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. Her internship combined her passions for engineering, international relations and public service, and she wrote a poem reflecting on her experience.


Monica Chan at the United Nations main office (image source: Monica Chan)

Monica Chan at the United Nations main office (image source: Monica Chan)

Humanitarian Aid is not easy to swallow,
So it lingers
On your tongue
For quite a while
Demanding you to savor it.
I discovered that it tastes different for everyone.

A technical consultant described it was bitter, then sweet, then bitter again.
A legal officer translated it as pasty, crumbly, doughy, all at once.
A director explained, fermented but refreshing.

Humanitarian Aid is a delicacy I have never tried before,
So I gathered
All my senses
And while time permits
I consumed bite-sized portions.
I discovered that I am no connoisseur of such gastronomy.

I deployed Physical Site Planning toolkits to 9 locations globally.
I compiled a plethora of data for the prototype of the Settlement Information Portal.
I studied the Master Plan, in hopes of proposing ideas for the Kalobeyei camp in Kenya.

Humanitarian Aid is delicious enough to awaken my curious taste buds.
However
I feel a disconnect
Between me and the chefs
Who have conjured such an expansive cuisine.
I discovered that I have hardly heard their voices in reality.

They are the pawns of wars and crises floating desperately in rickety boats on the sea.
They are the survivors whom I read about in academia, newspapers, and social media.
They are the peaceful demonstrators who surround the monument of the 3-legged chair outside Geneva’s UN Main Office and chant “Shame on you, UN!”

Humanitarian Aid is a buffet
That would not have
Been created,
Had there been peace
Within each country and between all states of the world.
I discovered that the chefs and consumers indeed have massive contrasts in their interpretations of this culinary spread.

I’ve had a hearty meal thus far,
But I haven’t left because I haven’t paid,
Because I am still figuring out this unique taste of Humanitarian Aid.

— Monica Chan