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Man With A Mission

Man With A MissionAs director of overseas operations for Catholic Relief Services, Tufts graduate Sean Callahan has been on the front lines of major disaster recovery efforts around the world throughout the past year.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.06.06] Not many people have had a chance to rub elbows with Mother Teresa on the job. But for Tufts graduate Sean Callahan, director of overseas operations for Catholic Relief Services, that kind of opportunity isn’t even the best part of the job. His real satisfaction comes from “building bridges that provide a sense of global solidarity,” he recently told the Baltimore Sun.

“I feel personally blessed,” Callahan, who earned an undergraduate degree from Tufts in 1982 and a graduate degree from The Fletcher School in 1988, explained to the newspaper. “You develop bonds with people working in some of the most desperate situations, and that happens all over the world.”

Callahan began making those global connections when he took an internship position with Catholic Relief Services in Costa Rica after he was graduated from The Fletcher School.

“I had been blessed with a lot of prosperity in my life, so I figured I could afford one year giving back to assist others,” Callahan told the Sun. “I ended up making a one-year internship into, so far, a 17- or 18-year career.”

That career choice has kept Callahan busy through the years. In 2005, when the rebuilding process after the South Asia tsunami kicked into high gear, a volcano erupted in El Salvador, hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean and Central America and an earthquake devastated Pakistan.

"It was an incredible year for emergencies all around," the 45-year-old Massachusetts native told the Sun.

But it was also been a year of “tremendous progress,” Callahan noted, in reference to the areas affected by the tsunami.

“I was in Banda Aceh in Indonesia a month ago seeing construction going on, water systems put in place, communities coming back with employment opportunities, agriculture, fishing in the coastal areas, other small businesses,” Callahan told the Sun. “You are seeing hope coming back.”

In other areas, rebuilding is proving to be a more difficult task because of religious and ethnic clashes among citizens and political differences between the affected countries and those sending relief workers. In these cases, Callahan told the Sun, the key is building trust.

“We were in Pakistan right after the earthquake in what people on the outside would think is a very dangerous area. But the people in that community saw the work we were doing and protected us,” Callahan explained to the Sun. “I feel blessed being able to work in these communities, to help reconcile communities, and to understand the great potential of what can be accomplished on a person-to-person basis despite the fact that there might be conflict between governments.”

Bringing communities together, helping them rebuild after disaster and equipping them to stand on their own is what aid work is all about, Callahan told the Sun.

“You make investments in local social capital and allow that to grow to develop communities that can meet their own social needs,” Callahan explained to the Sun. “One important thing as an agency like Catholic Relief Services is to work through a network of local partners, to empower local people in building their capacity, and then to assist them in responding to needs, sometimes with resources, sometimes with technical assistance.”

In fostering partnerships both abroad and at home, Callahan said that Catholic Relief Services seeks out “organizations that share our common values,” according to the Sun. Although it’s a Catholic organization with “a lot of faith based support … it is a universal faith base,” he added, noting that the nonprofit supports people of all faiths in the countries where it works and collaborates with many different religious groups in the United States.

Callahan told the Sun that while faith plays an important role in his job, he is also motivated by a desire he discovered at Tufts to give back to the community.

“For me, in doing this work, it comes from a faith instilled by my parents and, frankly, a civic responsibility promoted by the schools I went to,” he explained to the Sun.


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