Defending the Displaced
On her journey from Chestertown to the United Nations, alumna Yukiko Omagari ’05 let the people’s voices urge her toward advocacy.
As an international studies major, Yukiko Omagari ’05 had pursued academic programs in South Africa, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. But when she saw an opportunity to conduct research among the people of Turkey, from west to southeast, her horizons expanded.
With a grant from the Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Omagari embarked on a summer field research project, traveling from city to city to interview people championing the rights of migrants. She also spoke with local community members, minority language teachers, and staff at a cultural center for minorities.
“Undertaking such an intensive research project at the undergraduate level is usually impossible,” she says. “I published the [resulting research] article in Washington College’s International Studies Review, which still remains in my CV to show my field research experience.”
Omagari’s second Cater grant funded an internship with Insan Association – an NGO that helps migrant and refugee children in Beirut, Lebanon – teaching at the organization’s specialized school. “I helped to improve the academic and life skills of the children, who had faced various problems at home and at former schools due to racial discrimination, language difficulties, financial problems, and other obstacles,” she wrote in International Studies Review.
Nine years later, she ran into her former internship supervisor at a United Nations conference, and they are now in touch as colleagues. She is also still in contact with some of the people she met traveling through Turkey.
“Meeting and interviewing people in local communities convinced me that any change or peace comes from local [efforts],” Omagari says. “I came to believe in civil society’s potential, and this led to working for a human rights NGO in Japan, my home country. The Cater Society helped me build my self-confidence, which contributed so much to pursuing my current work.”
Omagari earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Tokyo, and is now serving as associate program officer in the U.N. Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.