Episode 15: Niv Rabino, humanitarian relief worker

IsraAid travels the world responding to natural disasters. We check in with them on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

The guest: In the summer of 2017, Niv Rabino had just wrapped up a mission helping with the refugee crisis in Greece. He flew home to Israel, hoping to relax. But when he landed, news of Hurricane Harvey's devastation compelled him to rush back to the airport, and head to Texas. What's more, he had a personal connection to the tragedy: His niece had been visiting Houston, and was stuck for days on the second floor of a flooded house. Rabino hasn't left Houston since. For the past year, he's made the city his home. He's now working on long-term relief efforts, and helping the community rebuild and be better prepared for the next storm.

The gist: Rabino works for the Tel Aviv-based humanitarian relief agency IsraAid. Like the Red Cross and Americares, IsraAid travels to the scenes of natural disasters. They've been busy in recent years. After a cyclone roared through Vanuatu, and an earthquake rattled Nepal, and a flood ravaged West Virginia, IsraAid ran to the rescue. They've gone on missions to the South Sudan, Japan, India, Sierra Leone, and the Philippines, just to name a few. They send teams of Israelis to help with rescue efforts, clean up and to help victims with the psychological toll of surviving a natural disaster. On today's episode, we catch up with Rabino to chat about the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, other global spots where IsraAid is on the ground, and a unique program the group operates to train the next generation of humanitarians.

Further reading:

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Niv Rabino helped with the cleanup efforts in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Niv Rabino helped with the cleanup efforts in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: Courtesy)

An IsraAid volunteer helps with debris removal after Hurricane Harvey battered Houston. An IsraAid volunteer helps with debris removal after Hurricane Harvey battered Houston. (Photo: Courtesy)

The IsraAid team in Houston. Rabino is third from the right. The IsraAid team in Houston. Rabino is third from the right. (Photo: Courtesy)

Before he worked for IsraAid, Niv Rabino was orchestrating humanitarian work in Ghana. Before he worked for IsraAid, Niv Rabino was orchestrating humanitarian work in Ghana. (Photo: Twitter)


Benyamin: On this episode of Our Friend From Israel...

Speaker 2: Hurricane Harvey, State of Emergency.

Speaker 3: Hurricane Harvey barrelling into the Texas coastline as a category four storm with 130 mile an hour winds-

Benyamin: On August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. The category four storm was so massive that it could be seen by NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station. When all was said and done, the total damage caused by Hurricane Harvey was $125 billion.

Speaker 4: Channel 2 News begins right now with a severe weather alert.

Speaker 3: And we are back with coverage of our flood catastrophe. People are still stranded in neighborhoods at this hour. Rescues happening nearly every minute. Families, children, pets saved from the rising flood waters. Images that range from heartbreaking to uplifting.

Speaker 5: It is also-

Benyamin: Dozens of humanitarian aid organizations rushed to the scene, including a Tel Aviv based group called IsraAid.

Speaker 3: Massive floods from Hurricane Harvey continue their sweep across Texas. The Israeli humanitarian organization, IsraAid has sprung into action to help.

Benyamin: Like the Red Cross and Americares, IsraAid travels to the scenes of natural disasters. They've been busy in recent years. After a cyclone roared through Vanuatu, and an earthquake rattled Nepal, and a flood ravaged West Virginia, IsraAid ran to the rescue.

Speaker 6: Good Evening, the cleanup operation after the floods in Calderdale has been given a helping hand by an international aid organization. Volunteers from the Israel-based group IsraAid have been in Britain today working with the victims of the Boxing Day storms. The organization said it was moved to come to Yorkshire after seeing footage of the devastation on foreign news.

Benyamin: They've gone on missions to the South Sudan, Japan, India, Sierra Leone, and the Philippines, just to name a few. They send teams of Israelis to help with rescue efforts, clean up, and to help victims of the psychological toll of surviving a natural disaster.

Benyamin: In the summer of 2017, IsraAid's Niv Rabino had just wrapped up a mission helping with the refugee crisis in Greece. He flew home to Israel, hoping to relax, but when he landed, news of Hurricane Harvey's devastation propelled him to get back to the airport, and head to Texas.

Benyamin: What's more, he had a personal connection to the tragedy. His niece was visiting Houston, and was stuck for days on the second floor of a flooded house.

Benyamin: Rabino hasn't left Houston since. For the past year, he's made Houston his home. He's now working on long-term relief efforts, and helping the community rebuild, and be better prepared for the next storm.

Benyamin: On today's episode, we catch up with Niv to chat about the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, other global spots where IsraAid is on the ground, and a program the group operates to train the next generation of Humanitarians. Stay tuned.

Benyamin: Welcome to Our Friend From Israel, a podcast brought to you by FromtheGrapevine.com. I'm your host Benyamin Cohen. And, each week, we'll have a conversation with an intriguing Israeli. They'll come from all walks of life. Actors, artists, athletes, academics, archeologists, and other news-makers.

Benyamin: On today's episode, we chat with humanitarian relief worker, Niv Rabino.

Niv: Sounds good. I want this side.

Benyamin: Okay, testing. Can you hear me okay?

Niv: Yeah, you're perfect.

Benyamin: Okay.

Benyamin: Hello everyone, and welcome to today's show. Today, we are joined by Niv Rabino from IsraAid. How are you today?

Niv: I'm doing well. How about yourself?

Benyamin: Good. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us. I really appreciate it.

Niv: My pleasure.

Benyamin: So, you're in Houston now, is that correct?

Niv: Yup. I've basically been here a year. Almost exactly. Because I arrived with a team here from Israel, about three days after Harvey. Give or less three days, I'm in Houston for a year.

Benyamin: Wow. And you actually, was I reading, that you had a family connection to Hurricane Harvey.

Niv: It's part of the reason why I came here. Before Texas, I was working with IsraAid in Greece, in Lesbos, responding to the refugee crisis there. So, I was there for about a year. And I basically, ended my contract on August 26th, which is exactly when Harvey happened. I went to Israel, then I came back to Israel, I was aware that my niece is with her grandma on her mother's side.

Benyamin: In Houston?

Niv: Yeah, in Houston. I knew about her there. I called her. My first conversation with her I was like, I really heard her distress, and she sent some really alarming videos, basically, their whole first floor is four feet flooded. And they're all on the second floor with 16 people there. They rescued two neighbors. She, just is 11 year old, was clearly very distressed. I hanged up the phone with her, tried to reassure her, the next phone call was to my headquarters, and asking them what are we doing about Harvey, and, obviously, while I was calling, they were already sitting and discussing it. They told me they'll get back to me. Then, basically, the day after, it's about exactly 24 hours that I'm in Israel, after I finished working for IsraAid, they called me asked me if I can be on a flight the same day. Like at 10:00

Benyamin: So, you were in Greece, and then Israel, and then Texas within the same week, basically?

Niv: Exactly.

Benyamin: Wow.

Niv: More than all, I just wanted to see my niece, and make her feel better. So I was very set to do that, and yeah, basically the same night, we were the first team. We were about seven people, then another five joined us. So, we were ... Basically, that night we flew to Dallas, because Houston was closed for a few weeks. We drove nine hours from Dallas to Houston, which usually takes four, or four and a half.

Benyamin: Wow.

Niv: Just to get in.

Benyamin: And so your niece, she was stuck in the second floor for a while?

Niv: Yeah. She was stuck there for two days on the second floor. Then the water subsided, and yeah, I was able to see her exactly the day after the water subsided from their neighborhood. She was definitely in trauma. I think it still exists in her. Every time I even mention Houston, you can see on her face that she's experiencing something. So, it was a very traumatic event for her.

Benyamin: In the immediate aftermath of Harvey, what were you guys doing?

Niv: So, in the immediate aftermath, we basically came with the team of people who had previous experience in the immediate response to disaster, so we knew it would mostly be cleanup, debris removal, those kind of tests in the individual houses. So, we brought a group of people that had that experience, and also we had in every mission, every response we have, we usually also send someone more from the psycho-social support realm. So, we had also a therapist with us. Basically, what we did was work on individual houses, work with families who were effected in Houston, we're actually all over the area. We were first at Houston, then Southwest of Houston in Wharton County. Then later in East Texas, in Beaumont. So, we were really traveling around.

Niv: We mainly work in houses, but we also worked in shelters, trying to introduce some protection concepts into the shelters, and make it more safe, and more efficient. In some of the shelters, our therapist also worked with kids, about processing the trauma, in a very kid friendly way.

Niv: Texas was very different for us from other missions because we ... Usually when we come to the U.S., and there were a few occasions throughout the years we did the initial response in the U.S. We did about two or three weeks, depends on the magnitude of the disaster. But Harvey was a completely different ballgame in that matter, and also in the amount of backing, the funding that we got. So, we actually stayed in Texas for about four months, doing this initial response.

Niv: As you can see, I'm still here with more additional backing that we go to implement some more, longer-term programs that we're doing right now.

Benyamin: What kind of long-term programs are you working on?

Niv: So, basically, after working here for about four months on housing, meeting a lot of vulnerable households people that were effected. Basically, after the initial part of the mission here, I saw that there's a big need of exactly those kind of people, the more vulnerable people, to be more connected, to have more information in hand before a disaster occurs, to basically prepare them, to see what kind of aspects, or components of their vulnerabilities can be addressed. Especially, after a disaster happens, to know that certain households have more vulnerability than others, and we should, local government, and organizations like ourselves, big organizations, like Red Cross, response organizations, should know about those households so they can address those vulnerable houses in a more timely manner. And allocate more resources to move them forward.

Niv: Especially, after a disaster where you would know, in your community, which houses are vulnerable so you can inform organizations, governments, allocate resources in a much more responsible and accountable way. What kind of resource and what kind of amount, like how much amount of resources each household needs.

Niv: We also believe the communities can help themselves. That's actually the most prevalent thing we saw here in Texas. For me, at least, it was the most apparent thing, that the biggest responders were your neighbors. People helping each other. We saw that a lot. So, what I'm trying to build here now, is the bodies in communities that will be in charge of this dataset basically, his information, who would be able to enact on it, and basically know their situation before a disaster happens.

Benyamin: Do you think that Texas would be better prepared for the next mega storm after this?

Niv: I think they'll better prepared, just from the fact that people are much more disaster conscious now. That's important. That's the first thing for preparedness, is to not take it lightly anymore. In case of an event happening again. But, I don't look for it as a whole if Houston is still prepared for the next one.

Benyamin: I just finished reading an amazing new book called The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis, who's a famous author. It's all about the federal government in the U.S., and how there's still a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to these kinds of activities.

Niv: What is interesting, actually, is that the trend of deducing now, is also with federal government, is basically giving more resources and power to the more local governments. And even trickling down to communities, and all that. There's a lot of, even in terms of the funding, you saw. A lot of money goes to grants and organization, instead of a FEMA centralized, kind of assistance. So, you see, I think that's a big change, and you saw it, especially also, with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where a lot of organizations are the actors who are now working on disaster preparedness and recovery plans, and all that. It's becoming a little bit decentralized from FEMA, from what I see. From federal assistance. They're giving more funds, and they're giving more resources to local actors to be responding.

Benyamin: When we return, Niv tells us about a group he joined as a child that inspired him into a life of service.

Niv: So, yeah. They're lucky really get service oriented from a young age. That's the whole, one of the biggest premises, to see yourself as part of a community and how to improve it. It was really important for me.

Benyamin: All that and much more after the break.

Benyamin: If you're enjoying this episode, you'll also want to check out our recent interview with classical Pianist, Michael Pasikov. After surviving cancer, he lost the use of his right hand. What could have been the end of his career, Michael instead saw it as an opportunity.

Michael Pasikov: So if you get depressed over what's happening, it's like you're wasting the day. I look at it as a growth opportunity to learn more about music than I even would have done, had it not happened.

Benyamin: Hear Michael's incredible and inspiring story at OurFriendFromIsrael.com. That's where you'll find a complete archive of all of our episodes.

Benyamin: And now, back to today's interview with IsraAid's Niv Rabino.

Benyamin: So, we' jumped right in and started talking about Houston, but I want to, if we can, just back up a little bit, and talk about more in the past, than Houston. Where did you grow yup?

Niv: I was born in Haifa, in Israel. Basically, grew up there for 22 years. I decided I wanted to, like most Israelis, see the world. Basically, I started my journey after traveling in Europe a little bit, I ended up in Hawaii for a few years.

Benyamin: Okay. What did you do in Hawaii?

Niv: Basically just lived there. After that, became a routine, and a little bit boring. I started going to school there, the University of Hawaii. Then, yeah. Basically, from University of Hawaii, I transferred to Columbia University. I finished my undergrad there in Sustainable Development. Then, I just started working. So it was not planned to stay in The States for so long, but that's kind of how life directed me. I'm here ever since.

Benyamin: When you were growing up, was there something ... Is this the kind of work, the humanitarian aid, is that something that interested you growing you? Or did you have something else in mind?

Niv: Not necessarily humanitarian work, but I knew I wanted to be of service to have a job that's not only benefiting myself, but that there's some component that I'm also improving my environment. So, during my college years, that was also my focus. I studied Public Health, and, it took me a while to find the work that I actually do now. Yeah. I was lucky to find, actually, to be connected to an organization in the U.K. that does work in Ghana and that was my first job in the field. Where I basically deployed to Ghana for about seven months, and was managing a program there for their called Tzedek. They're a non-profit from England.

Benyamin: It seems like all the work that you've been doing is very service oriented. Not everyone is cut out to do that. Was that something that was taught to you as a child? How did that end up being a life's mission for you?

Niv: That's a good question. I think it was a lot of influence from my Tzofim. In Israel, like the Scouts, I think it's something-

Benyamin: Oh, like the BoyScouts?

Niv: Like called the Scouts, because it's not like a BoyScouts.

Benyamin: Oh, okay.

Niv: We don't sell cookies. So, they really get service oriented from a young age. That's the whole, one of the biggest premises there. To see yourself as part of community and how to improve it. It was really important for me in my youth, and I think also my brother was inspiration for me, where he also dedicated his life to service, and also improving his environment. I guess it's that, and also just something innate in me that I always felt this is kind of what I want to do.

Benyamin: It's very selfless. Like I said, not everyone is cut out for that.

Niv: It's selfless, but I also feel like I get a lot of gratification out of it. So, as much as it's selfless, I think I do get a lot from it. It is combined, if you're a person that likes to travel and be exposed to different cultures and all that, this is ideal. They usually pay me to do that, it's even better.

Benyamin: Your passport's probably a very crowded passport.

Niv: I lost it a few years ago. It could have been more crowded.

Benyamin: Oh, really?

Niv: It was a nice one, fully packed. But, now it's like half-full.

Benyamin: Okay, so then, after you worked in Ghana, you got involved with IsraAid?

Niv: Yes.

Benyamin: How did that come about?

Niv: It was pretty fast. IsraAid has a very good network of people who know people, and can be really vouch for them. I think a lot of hiring happens that way. Just knowing people personally and referring them. Because, I always saw IsraAid as a nice organization where I'm still connected to Israel, but I'm not in Israel, and that was important for me. It was perfect timing, because they had two positions open, I was actually applying for the one in South Sudan, because I wanted to go back to Africa, and I just came back from Ghana. That was like my goal. Then, after talking with them. We basically realized I would be a much better fit for Greece. That was basically decided, I'll go Greece.

Benyamin: At From The Grapevine, we report a lot about IsraAid and all the work that they do around the world, but for people who are not familiar, what's the mission of IsraAid?

Niv: So, it has a few missions, I would say, first of all, the first and foremost one is to save lives. That's the ... We employ a lot of different services, and we always try to be the first ones in the fields giving the live-saving resources that people need. First and foremost, we are a disaster response organization. But, I think, what is special about IsraAid, and what I like about our mission, that it's not only looking in the response phase, it really puts into work the different stages of rehabilitating a community that was effected by a disaster.

Niv: I would say our mission is not only the response, but it is also going with the community along the way and making sure that they're not only constructing themselves, but we're also putting in place different practices, different structures to make their development sustainable for the long-run.

Benyamin: So, it's short-term relief, and then long-term planning?

Niv: Yes. So, you can see just by our missions, I think right now, we have around 20, and just if we spoke a few days ago, we maybe had less. But now, we also responded to the latest one where it was the volcano in Guatemala, and now we're also in India after the floods in Kerala.

Niv: Basically, all these missions, they start from some kind of a disaster. Either, we don't like to call it natural, but, it happens for environmental reasons.

Benyamin: Man-made climate change, or something like that.

Niv: Now in the field, there's no ... Nothing is really naturally happening in our world. Every disaster we have has a social, or some human component into it. So, calling it natural is not correct to say. Also in the field, people are trying to start not using that term any more, like natural disasters.

Benyamin: That's fascinating.

Niv: And it's true, when you think about it. It's really the correct way to say it.

Niv: But, we do, we want to classify our response, it is to man-made disasters, that's called, like the Refugee Crisis mostly, and displace people in Africa mostly. Disasters that happen from environmental causes. So, most of them, it's very rare that we will respond to a disaster and then continue working thereafter, it's for the long-term recovery.

Niv: I think the only exceptions are missions that we had in the U.S., until now, until Harvey. The other ones, most of them, and especially all the big ones that happened in the past, we developed some kind of program that looks at long-term recovery at that community.

Benyamin: Where else in the U.S.? What other recent disasters has, in the U.S., has IsraAid responded to?

Niv: So, just last year, like talking with the last one. So, Harvey happened in August, then Irma and Maria in September. Also, we responded to the wildfires that happened in Sonoma last year in California, that's just in the U.S. I think that, if I'm not mistaken, for the past three years, maybe four years, we were either in Texas or Louisiana for floodings. Much smaller scale floodings. We were also for a few tornado disasters in Oklahoma. I think the first mission to the U.S. we really had, from environmental causes, was in Sandy in 2011. We also had pretty large operation there. Those are examples.

Benyamin: How many people work, or volunteer for IsraAid around the world?

Niv: So, the way our model works is we basically have a 1,500 volunteer roster that we know we categorize by different professions, different skills. When a disaster happens, we basically call on those people who are what we're looking for. So, that's the group of volunteers that we call on, and basically that happens within the first 24 to 48 hours. Basically, we sent the right, the thing we do pretty fast is send someone who's managing the team, kind of like I was in Harvey, where he goes to the field and starts the need assessment to see what is needed.

Niv: At the same time, we're trying to already send what we think would be the skills needed at the disaster, if it's search and rescue, or just relief distribution, stuff like that. Almost all our missions are a constant response, and also need assessment to see how are we gonna make an effect on the community as well, and if it's needed even.

Niv: Because of the size of our organization, and we are a small size organization in the field of disaster response, we have a very unique model, that we always, we call the community approach model. Where we also work with the community itself to understand what their needs are. We never come and already know what we're doing, and start doing it. We always listen to the community, learn from them what they need. Then let them direct us. We give our expertise of the concepts and the things we should be aware of in the field, but we hear from them what are their needs.

Niv: Then, most importantly, when the work progresses, we always try to have the community, the one responsible for the actual continued engagement of the response. So, in most of our projects, it would look like we would be training the local community, or we would be training the local community to train the local community. So, we always have that approach where we were always aware of the fact that we're gonna exit, or we're gonna leave this community at some point. And it's always a reminder, in all of program plans, is always to leave the community in charge of teaching the skills that we know and basically have a responsible exit strategy in that matter.

Benyamin: You traveled ... I thought I read somewhere that you called yourself, "homeless by choice", because you travel so much?

Niv: Yeah, in a way. You could call it like a nomad, not homeless. Because I always have a home, wherever I go.

Benyamin: Hello listeners. You'll notice that every single podcast on the planet asks you to rate and review them on iTunes. Why is that? Well here's the answer. The more reviews and ratings that a show gets, the higher the show winds up on the iTunes charts, which in turn helps more people find the show. So, if you're enjoying this podcast, please, head on over to iTunes, and leave us a rating and a review. It's greatly appreciated.

Benyamin: If you're enjoying this episode, you might also want to listen to our interview with Professor Tal Ben-Shahar. His class on Positive Psychology was the most popular course in the history of Harvard.

Tal Ben-Shahar: My favorite word in English is the word appreciate. I love that word. And if you think about it, it has two meanings. And the two meanings of the word appreciate are intimately connected. Why? Because when you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.

Benyamin: Check out that interview and our entire archive of episodes at OurFriendFromIsrael.com. And now, back to today's interview with humanitarian relief worker Niv Rabino.

Benyamin: You must encounter some really meaningful stories and meaningful interactions with people on the ground. Is there a particular story that stands out to you that you were really touched by?

Niv: I think that on a day-to-day basis in Greece, because I had the opportunity to meet, and to hear the stories of people who I would never really have the chance to. We had refugees from all over the world. Islam, African nations, and people from South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Really, all over the world, and I think all those interactions and the fact that we get close to each other, it's really touching. That was a privilege for me to do that.

Benyamin: Is there a story in Texas from the early days where you were helping somebody, and now a year later, that you're still in touch with them? You're still friendly with them?

Niv: There's a few. I think the story that touched me the most here in Texas, which I wasn't aware of, just for not being in Texas beforehand, was the whole relationship, Christian, especially Evangelical Christians have here to Israel. Basically, we came to houses here, if you know our logo, you can see pretty clearly there's a Star of David there, and it looks a little bit like our flag, so people right away identified us as Israelis.

Niv: There was one woman that she really, she was a very strong believer, and she basically had her house was completely flooded. We're talking six feet of water. Everything in the house to get out. Her husband had a dementia, she was the only one taking care of him, an elderly couple, and she was already ready to give up completely on life. She didn't know how to move on. All this I know after meeting with her.

Niv: Basically, when we come to the houses, we do an assessment in the neighborhood, and then basically we come, or approach a house, start talking with the homeowner, first of all comforting them, kind of listening to their needs.

Niv: When we approached her house, going to the driveway, she saw us. First, she looked a little bit suspicious, you know, what we are about. Then, when she came closer, she saw our shirts, she asked if we were from Israel, we said, "Yes, and we came here to help." She started ... She collapsed, just started crying, which is a scene that we saw before, it happened to us, before. But after we calmed her down, and all that, we asked her if she's okay, and then if we could help her in any way. Then she told us that she was already ready to give up on life, she didn't know how to move on, she didn't know how to take care of her husband. All she was doing was praying to God for a sign to come, and to tell her to keep on moving on.

Benyamin: Wow.

Niv: She said that when she saw us with our Star of David shirts, and all that, she knew that's the sign from God. She broke down. She basically decided to keep on going.

Niv: That's just one story.

Benyamin: It's amazing how a disaster, it's obviously, a terrible tragedy, but at the same time, it seems to rally people together.

Niv: Yeah. It's like I said in the begining of the conversation, that was by far, the most evident thing here about Texans. So many times we came to a house, and they had two, three abled bodies there, they told me, "Don't go to us. Down the road, we have this neighborhood who's elderly, and nobody helped her. Go there." People were really aware of who needs help. Cars were driving around all the time. Whoever was not effected from the disaster did the most to help out. So, cars were going around giving out food, and drinks. It was a terrible tragedy, obviously, and the damage and the loss was huge. But, I think for Houston, they don't say Houston's strong for no reason. They really have a strong sense of their community and helping each other in times of need. That was very, very strong to see.

Benyamin: So, obviously, it sounds like this is something that is your life's work, your life's mission. Do you see yourself doing this into the foreseeable future? Helping with IsraAid?

Niv: Yeah. I don't know if it's my life's mission, but certainly, that's something I do intend to focus more on specific aspects of this field. I think I do want to continue my education, and do some more. But it looks like what I'm doing in Texas, which is a little bit more academic and more community approach. Yeah. I think it will ... I don't know if with IsraAid, or for another organization, but it looks like I will continue to do this kind of work for the next few years.

Benyamin: I just thought of this. You're traveling so much, it must be hard to get a group of ... I don't know if you're single? Is it hard to meet people when you're traveling so much?

Niv: Yeah. It's not hard. You just need to go out and meet people in the end. I think the fact that you are transient and you always come with that notion that you're not staying here necessarily long, so, maybe you would hold back a little bit more than just developing deep relationships. I think that has its toll.

Niv: Obviously, I'm also ready to start feeling I should start thinking about grounding myself a little bit more. But, yeah, it's in the thoughts. I did do it for a while. The fact, I never considered myself being at home in the U.S. necessarily, I still consider Israel a place where I would want to live. But, I still haven't done a significant move towards that. But, I feel like the time is coming. I feel like it's coming soon.

Benyamin: So, next time we talk to you, you may be in a different venture.

Niv: Hopefully in Israel.

Benyamin: I like to end all my interviews with this question. Is there any question I didn't ask you that I should have asked you?

Niv: Yes, there's one.

Benyamin: Okay.

Niv: I would like you to ask what kind of involvement or my other part, besides having the mission here in Texas, I'm also in charge of the outreach programs in the U.S. So, we have a U.S. office here. A U.S. IsraAid office, who's mainly in charge of development, and fund raising, and stuff like that, but we also run a few programs.

Niv: One of our really, flagship programs for the engagement of the U.S. community is a program we have with students. It's called our Humanitarian Aid Fellowship. Israeli Humanitarian Aid Fellowship, where we basically select excellent students who have interest in the field, or have a track record of doing related work in the field who want to basically have a professional development experience with us. We teach them some of the concepts, and skill, and practices we have, and the peak of the fellowship is having a two-month deployment to one of our missions worldwide.

Niv: We actually were just-

Benyamin: And you said you have like 20 missions worldwide.

Niv: Some of them for security reasons, obviously, are not possible. I can tell you from this year, we have 14 fellows who were deployed to 8 different countries.

Benyamin: Wow.

Niv: And it's an amazing program, just, also because they learn about it, then they actually experience it hands-on in the field with our professional staff, in the different countries. The most exciting part for us, for this engagement, is actually when they go back to the colleges or universities, they're committed for a full year of engagement, in the campuses, in their communities. So, basically, together with their experience from the Summer, and everything we teach them, we give them the background, and we also try to develop some skills to extend those projects and talk about it in their communities and raise awareness specifically about their project, about IsraAid as a whole, really basically be the extension for us at the universities, and engage more and more students to that conversation of the role of the humanitarian aid and what we do as an organization.

Niv: It's one of our biggest programs here right now, and we invest a lot of efforts in that. Thanks to the Schusterman Foundation, who's funding us for that project, and it's a great program. Like, right now, we're concluding ... We almost have all the fellows back from the Summer. We still have two more in Germany. So far, their experiences were beyond their expectations and very meaningful. So it's great. It's, for us, a good way to start the year. Basically the next year of fellowship, the next cohort for 2018-19, the selection for the application for it will open next week. They can start registering for that, and basically, the application will be closed at the end of December.

Benyamin: That sounds like a great program where you're teaching the next generation of humanitarian aid workers.

Niv: Yeah. Hopefully, really become leaders in the field out of that, and they'll want to continue working with us after they leave college. So it's really a win-win for everyone. We love this program because of the exposure the student gets, but also the exposure that IsraAid gets to be represented in all these different universities. Like all of our fellows are very talented, they are potential leaders of a future in this field. It's really great to see them. Also, our staff enjoy them in the field. It's a really great program.

Benyamin: So, if people are interested in finding out more information about IsraAid, where can they look that up?

Niv: So, our website, has a lot of information. Which is IsraAid.org, or IsraAid.co.il. But, it's not always that completely. I think the best, and most emotional would be to follow our Facebook page, because we have some really nice posts about.

Benyamin: You guys are always posting photos from your missions there. That's how I keep with you.

Niv: Photos, or videos, it's great. Because it's really something personal we try to exemplify other staff, or beneficiaries that we work with. I think our Facebook editor has been doing a really good job about that. Less than our website, but we're getting there.

Benyamin: Yeah. Also, if people want to just send out the bat signal anytime they need help. You guys will come running.

Niv: A lot of missions start like that, by people reaching out to us. We're not even aware of the magnitude of the disaster, and telling us that we can come.

Niv: Like, for instance, in the Dominica, and Caribbean, it was basically a woman who owned a resort there that told us, "Listen, there's a disaster here after Maria that is incomprehensible. 90% of the island is gone." That wasn't in the news. I don't think a lot of people know about Dominica and the needs they have. We came there, and we became one of the most significant actors there because of that. It was basically us and the UN. Another organization. We stay there, we're still there. We have one of the biggest projects we have IsraAid there. That came from a lady telling us to come. An individual.

Benyamin: Wow. Well, Niv, thank you so much. I know you're doing important work. So, I really appreciate you taking some time this afternoon to chat with us.

Niv: Yeah.

Benyamin: It's been really informative.

Niv: My pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Benyamin: Sounds good, thank you so much Niv, I really appreciate it.

Niv: Thank you.

Benyamin: All right, take care.

Niv: Bye-bye.

Benyamin: Our Friend From Israel is a production of FromTheGrapevine.com. Extra notes and a transcript of today's episode can be found at OurFriendFromIsrael.com.

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Benyamin: Our show is produced by Paul Kasko. Editorial help from Jamie Bender. Our head engineer is Everett Adams. Our theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel.

Benyamin: You can visit our website OurFriendFromIsrael.com to find more episodes of the show. If you have an idea for a future guest that we should interview, send me an email at [email protected]

Benyamin: I'm your host Benyamin Cohen, and until next time, we hope you have a great week.


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Humanitarian

Episode 15: Niv Rabino, humanitarian relief worker
IsraAid travels the world responding to natural disasters. We check in with them on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.