2014 marks COHI’s tenth anniversary! This year will be one for reflecting and celebrating. For 10 of this year's months we will reflect on lessons learned each of those individual years, and meditate upon the women and children whom COHI has had the honor to help.
Jessica Christian, COHI Communications Director, sat down with COHI Founder Sera Bonds to learn about the founding year.
Jessica: What year did COHI start?
Jessica: What were you doing before COHI started?
Sera: I was in my last year of graduate school at Boston University and I had just been offered my dream job setting up reproductive health clinics in Afghanistan, with a very prestigious NGO. This was the place I'd always wanted to work and it was a dream job in many ways. I’d worked for really big and really small organizations and I knew that I wanted to do this differently. I had a vision to create something that would play nicely between the two. So, I turned my dream job down to start COHI.
Jessica: What was the impetus to start COHI?
Sera: I saw a gap between the large, behemoth institutions and the micro nonprofits. COHI is a middle path, if you will, for a mid-size organization focusing on midwives in war and disaster settings.
Jessica: What support did you receive during the first year of COHI’s existence?
Sera: People and partners appeared almost immediately; it was incredibly inspirational. First, we were lucky to be tasked to conduct two women's health needs assessments for the Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund (TPAF) in Tibet and the International Women's Peace Service (IWPS) in the West Bank. COHI was perfect for those partnerships.
Jessica: What did you accomplish?
Sera: We conducted a needs assessment in Nagchu, Tibet, where COHI went on to train 150 village midwives and doctors.
COHI also conducted a needs assessment in the West Bank. This helped several Palestinian communities (and their international supporters) to plan and secure for the emergency obstetric care they would need when the wall was complete in dividing Israel and the West Bank.
Then, at the end of 2004, the tsunami in Southeast Asia hit. COHI responded with our first relief effort in Sri Lanka. We responded with a team of volunteer clinicians and public health professionals to provide three months of clinical, midwifery and trauma based care in the easternmost part of the country where the war was still active.
It was year of hard work and accomplishment for which I am incredibly proud.
Jessica: What lessons do you still live by 10 years later that you learned that year?
Sera: Partnerships are tantamount. Without solid, trusted partnerships with local, community based organizations, COHI cannot be effective. Women everywhere are courageous, resilient, and full of knowledge. Women want to participate and they want to lead in the recovery efforts from trauma, disasters, and war. It’s up to those of us with privilege to listen to their requests, their needs, and to respond, with respect, competence, and humility.
Jessica: How were you changed personally that first year?
Sera: I was so humbled by the trust that our partners extended to COHI, and so moved by the courage I witnessed in the faces of the women and children that COHI served. I continue to feel unbelievably blessed to make a living doing this work at COHI. Best. Job. Ever.