In our latest “Following the Diaspora” feature, we are following Marika Rundle on her journey as an advocate for social justice.
"I have learned that simply having the will to ‘help’ is not good enough - you also need to obtain the skills on a practical, personal, emotional, and mental level to be of use. Results speak louder than intentions."
What is YOUR story? What resonates with you in terms of how you were driven to work in social impact?
I am a mixed-race woman who was raised in the wealthy white suburbs of San Francisco. I have spent my entire young adulthood dismantling aspects of societal and personal conditioning that was learned in my upbringing including influences of growing up religious, with immense privilege, and hyper-westernization. What did stick with me the most from those times, was a will to make productive change to address injustice to the best of my ability.
After studying public health and informatics in Seattle I made the decision to travel and
volunteer abroad for as long as I could to see and learn about humanitarian issues from a global perspective. I spent time with stateless people in South East Asia and volunteered with organizations working for those living as refugees in Turkey, Serbia, and Greece. My work with refugees thus far has been oriented around women-safe spaces, distributing essential goods and services, and community outreach and development in the region of Eastern Europe. I am currently working on creating digital content for a small NGO in Greece and outreaching to the international community.
How do you feel the language/narrative surrounding refugees and the crisis has shaped your experience?
Rhetoric is powerful. To some, it may seem tedious to refer to people and situations in a
structured and thought-through manner, but the way one (or an entity) frames a global crisis leads to the personal and public perceptions of the people living the crisis. Dignified language and narrative is the least we can do to honor those currently living as refugees. Shaping my own rhetoric has been widely influential in how I have come to view and understand the crisis, and my role in it.
Why is your current mission important to you?
My current mission is important to me because I truly see an upward progression in terms of international awareness of global issues. This time is unique in that people are starting to pay more attention to injustices and foreign politics than ever before, which is why rhetoric and the way the crisis is conveyed is especially pertinent.
What are the common misconceptions or stereotypes you are typically debunking?
I have learned that simply having the will to ‘help’ is not good enough - you also need to obtain the skills on a practical, personal, emotional, and mental level to be of use. Results speak louder than intentions.
What would you want the world to know about you/your background/line of work?
I am constantly learning about what I can do better; how I can frame situations to benefit people, and asking communities what they need instead of inserting my own agenda, or someone else's. There is a lot of work to be done in this regard; ethical and effective humanitarian work and unpacking privilege are fairly new concepts and have not been studied nearly enough. Tasks and decision-making in humanitarian work can be extremely complex because sometimes there is no one correct way to go about it - it is a journey!
Why is accurate representation important for you and your community?
Everyone has a right to their own truths. Those look different from others’ truths; thus, opening the space for honest dialogue is arguably the most important step in assisting in upward momentum. As a mixed-race individual, I have always felt somewhat pulled between two places, two cultures, and two identities. This duality has really magnified to me why representation matters so much in a predominantly homogeneous space. Without accurate representation, a decision is not trustworthy nor informed.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone unfamiliar with the humanitarian/aid community?
In this line of work or volunteering, you will be forced to reevaluate your entire life; your
privilege, your country, your every present action. Because this work is not about you, it's about centering the needs of other people; therefore, you carry the weight of that
responsibility. Along with offering service or aid in environments of tension, you need to
maintain a balance within yourself to stay sane. This is a dynamic opportunity derived from your privilege to reframe your perspective on the world and on the self in order to best support fellow humans in this world. Take it!
What is your hope for the future?
My hope for the future is that people will find the will and necessity to take the first step to educate themselves, and then the second step to mobilize in the face of injustice - and be mindful along the way! Now that being ‘woke’ is a ‘trend,’ we need to be especially careful about how we go about talking about, spreading information about, and addressing humanitarian causes.
What mistakes have you made that you think we can learn from to help shift the narrative?
When I was growing up, I was very involved in mission trips through religious organizations. Today, I have a lot of guilt regarding some of those experiences; it isn’t enough to say that I was uneducated and young. I simply was acting in a way that I believed in at the time, but am now aware how my actions and behaviors could have negatively impacted the people and populations I worked with and claimed to care about.
I think there is always a power dynamic in space involving humanitarian aid; which is why the white savior complex is rampant. I, along with others I have worked alongside, are actively trying to mitigate the harm caused by mindsets as such. For humanitarian aid workers, when we realize it is not about us nor our agenda, the narrative genuinely shifts.
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