UWCSEA trained me to ask difficult questions. I was shown how important it is to question things and how, if we choose to, we have the ability to be a part of something greater."Linda Steinbock ’06, Humanitarian Programme Advisor at a Global NGO
Humanitarian work is rewarding but not always easy. UWCSEA trained me to ask difficult questions and this mentality has played a big role in my choice and success in my career.
I completed my BA in Geography and Developmental Studies at the University of Melbourne (Australia) and I also spent time in Banda Aceh, Indonesia for my honours studies to research the effects of aid work in the region following the devastating 2004 tsunami. I was a student at UWCSEA when the tsunami hit, and I remember the efforts of the community to provide grassroots immediate support in the wake of the disaster. It was somehow fitting that I was able to study the effects - both positive and negative - of the aid that poured into the region following the devastation.
In the summer break of my final year, I signed up for two internships—one with the Global Poverty Project and the other with Save the Children. I subsequently went on to work as a Humanitarian Coordinator in the Save the Children’s emergency team for the Asia Pacific region based in Melbourne, and then I moved to Sweden to take on the challenge of Project Officer, which prepared me for my dream of deploying to emergencies as part of the Swedish Humanitarian Response team. As a result, I deployed to Lebanon in 2013, primarily working with refugees affected by the Syrian crisis.
I spent over four months in Lebanon, designing project monitoring systems and training staff to communicate thoughtfully and effectively to those affected by conflict. The systems were designed to generate a strong evidence base, to help inform decision making and future project design. The aim is always to have the greatest impact for children and their families.
Several experiences in the field have had a huge impact on me and continue to motivate me to work in these difficult contexts. I have often observed how people come together to conquer their troubles. But in other cases I see children suffering through the pain they witness; children whose lives have been completely turned upside down due to conflict. Even if you don’t understand the language, emotions transcend. During one focus group, a young boy described to us the sound of bullets and drew a picture of a helicopter shelling his home, killing his friends and family. As he described his experience, the room went from laughter to instant silence.
I have experienced first hand how survival instincts also tend to kick in a lot earlier in children who have witnessed and experienced acts of violence. During my deployment to Lebanon, I was playing with some children while my colleagues interviewed their parents and there was a loud noise outside causing a four year old boy to panic and act fast. He grabbed his slightly older sister and 12 year old brother, trying to push them under a table because he thought somebody was coming to hurt them. No one should have to grow up so quickly; that protective thought process does not normally happen so young.
My next assignment was Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Syrians of Kurdish descent were streaming in, in search of safety. There were anywhere between 1,000 to 20,000 refugees per day, and I was there to train staff and design systems to ensure Save the Children could respond to their immediate needs. After that, I was in Tacloban in the Philippines for five months to help children and families affected by Typhoon Haiyan (Super Typhoon Yolanda) and then spent several months supporting colleagues who responded to the Ebola crisis (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea) and Darfur Conflict Response (Sudan).
I moved back to Singapore in December 2014, and now I work as the Asia Regional Senior Monitoring Evaluation Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Advisor, responsible for supporting 15 country programmes in Asia. I work to develop strong monitoring and evaluation systems and support colleagues to deliver strong programmes. I also listen to children and their families about their needs, in both emergency and development contexts. This included deployments to Nepal following the 2015 earthquake and to Sumba, Indonesia to provide relief for drought-affected families. Most recently, I was the Deputy Team Leader - Programmes for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis where my team and I developed the initial strategy of how to provide holistic support to children and their families deeply affected both physically and mentally by conflict.
My job is rewarding, but often very tough. You never know when things can change out of your control; you have to learn to adapt very quickly. It takes time to see the fruits of the systems we implement and so sometimes it’s easy to question whether or not what I am doing is actually helping people. However, when it works, I know that the information the teams generate help us to plan and alter our projects if necessary to have long-lasting, positive effects. The people I meet in the field and the colleagues I work with make a big difference. I am privileged to work with such passionate and skilled people.
UWCSEA really exposed me to different cultures and different types of people, it helped me to build interpersonal skills with people from different backgrounds and cultures. I have really valued the opportunities we had to understand the needs of different people and the exposure we had to different environments outside of our comfort zone. Di Smart (who taught me English) and Tim Shepherd (who taught me Geography) often challenged me to think of these things and both made a huge impact on my life. Di showed us how important it is to question things and how if we choose to, we have the ability to be a part of something greater.
Reflecting on my experiences at school, that feeling of wanting to help others, and being aware of all the challenges other people are going through, that started at UWCSEA. It continues to fuel me to do what I am doing now.
UWCSEA is a big part of me and I am grateful for that. I’ve maintained some of my closest friendships I made at UWCSEA. We continue to feel connected no matter how much time has passed, because we share the same values and experience and our friendships have only strengthened over time.
In the IB Diploma, Linda studied Economics, Geography, English, French, Mathematics and Chemistry.