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First Disaster Recovery Grad Inspired to Alleviate Suffering

David Barker Completes Disaster Recovery Studies at CMU

DRS Graduate David Barker with CMU President Gerald Gerbrandt and Instructors Lois Nickel (DRS) and Kenton Lobe (IDS)

Three years ago, in the middle of reading Roméo Dallaire’s traumatic first-hand account of the Rwanda genocide, David Barker decided his future would be in disaster response.

“It was the first time I read something about the actual suffering going on in the world,” says Barker, recalling his profound emotional response to Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands with the Devil.

This spring, Barker became the first student to graduate from Canadian Mennonite University’s fledgling Disaster Recovery Studies (DRS) program. Barker received his diploma on April 17 with a major in Peace and Conflict Studies and two minors, one in International Development and the other in Disaster Recovery.

If CMU had offered a major in disaster recovery, he would have taken it, Barker says. When he enrolled, CMU was just getting the 18-credit-hour program off the ground.

CMU developed its Disaster Recovery Studies program through a partnership with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), a faith-based agency with more than fifty years of experience responding to disasters in Canada and the U.S.A.
The emphasis of CMU’s program is on the longer-term phases of individual, family, and community rebuilding following disasters. A key part of the program is a series of two terms of fieldwork, eight to ten weeks each, fulfilling CMU’s practicum requirement.

“The first term is spent serving with MDS. The second may be either with MDS or with another agency that does disaster recovery work in North America or internationally,” says DRS Instructor Lois Nickel, Program and Region Director with MDS. “Through these service terms, students like David Barker receive hands-on and leadership experience in the rebuilding of disaster-affected, often vulnerable communities. DRS helps students understand the nature of disasters, their aftermath, and the best ways to help people and communities recover physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.”

Ever since reading Dallaire’s book, Barker has felt called to help alleviate suffering in the world caused by disaster and conflict. He feels his classes and hands-on fieldwork over the past three years have helped equip him to begin that work.

In the summer of 2009, Barker completed his first practicum helping rebuild homes destroyed by California wildfires. “It was a very valuable experience,” he says. “We actually got to interact with the people who had been in the disaster and hear their stories – to talk to them about how they grew spiritually and mentally.”

For his second practicum, Barker worked with the Red Cross in Winnipeg helping develop a tool to assess the province’s ability to respond to disasters such as floods, heat waves, tornados, forest fires, or blizzards. In the classroom Barker studied the theory behind disaster response and the phases of recovery.

Barker’s long-term goal is to get a job working for an organization like the Red Cross, World Vision, or the UN. He says he’s willing to live in whatever part of the world he’s needed. “I’d find that interesting and rewarding,” Barker says.

But to get that kind of job, Barker needs more volunteer experience on his resumé. That’s why, the day after graduation, he started volunteering with the Manitoba government’s Emergency Measures Organization coordinating responses to the annual spring flood.

Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) is an accredited Christian university offering undergraduate degrees in the arts, music, music therapy, theology, and church ministries, and master degrees in theological studies and Christian ministry. CMU is a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Located in Manitoba, CMU has over 1,700 students at its Shaftesbury Campus in Southwest Winnipeg, at Menno Simons College in downtown Winnipeg, and enrolled through Outtatown, CMU’s adventure and discipleship program.

For information, contact:
Nadine Kampen, Communications and Marketing Director     Tel. 204.487.3300   Toll free 877.231.4570
Canadian Mennonite University    500 Shaftesbury Blvd.   Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3P 2N2