From Amherst and Back: A Thirty-year Reflection

From Amherst and back:  A thirty-year reflection on chaos, conflict and child rights programming

Reported by Lina Heaster-Ekholm


Rob (M.Ed 1988) and Toon (Ed.D. 2007) Fuderich, both graduates of CIE joined the CIE community for a Tuesday Dialogue. Newly retired, they have returned from Uzbekistan to Amherst, which has been their intermittent home since 1985. Over the course of the two-hour Dialogue, Rob shared the fascinating path life has taken him on from his youth in a Pennsylvania steel mill town to such diverse places Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Croatia, Geneva, Jamaica, and Sudan (among others).


A stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal served as Rob’s initial orientation to international and development work. There he taught at a University and worked in a refugee camp, where he met Toon, a Thai national, who was also working with refugees. Seven years later the couple, now married, returned to the United States and--following a time of working as teachers on a Navajo reservation--began degree programs at CIE. Rob attributes the birth of their two kids during graduate school as instrumental in shaping his desire to invest in early childhood education.


But a few years into the graduate school process Rob said, "the familiar ‘antsy-ness’ that haunts development practitioners began to set in." When the offer to head a teacher training project in Pakistan arose, Rob jumped at it and moved his family of four to Quetta. Although he had every intention of returning to the US to complete his doctorate following this stint, subsequent opportunities kept him in the field. To this day, Rob confessed, he still regrets that he didn’t complete the degree somewhere along the line. Toon, on the other hand, did continue to pursue her doctoral work and successfully completed her doctorate.


Rob’s recounting of his career path and field experience was peppered with interesting anecdotes and valuable lessons learned. The time he walked all day, for example, to visit a UNESCO project site in Afghanistan where tent-schools had been set up that were intended to facilitate a community dialogue approach to learning. When he finally reached the community he found the tent still wrapped in its original packaging and no programming underway. Upon reflection he realized that when projects were successful in one location they were difficult to reproduce in other contexts. In this example, projects that were successful in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan couldn’t simply be transferred across the border into Afghanistan; there was something unique in the original context that made them successful there. The lesson learned was that it is not effective to use a “cookie cutter approach” - trying to reproduce a project in a new context exactly the way it was in the original context and expecting similar results.


Although he has experience working for a variety of organizations, the majority of Rob’s career has been with UNICEF. And it’s in talking about this work, and in particular the child-centered nature of their approach, that his passion really shines through. One significant shift he’s seen over the course of his career that he is particularly happy about is the inclusion of education when discussing children’s needs in emergencies. Previously items such as pencils and paper, as well as securing facilities that could operate as schools in conflict situations were not considered “survival materials”. Now, however, the importance of a child’s right to education even in conflict situation has been secured in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and earned the issue equal consideration at the table when resources and programming are being discussed.


For now, in the early phase of retirement, Rob is taking time to finally work on things that he’s wanted to do all along – attend lectures and workshops in the community, engage with interesting people and ideas, perhaps even take up a hobby (!). He is also open to and excited about being able to engage with the CIE community on topics of interest, including matters surrounding child rights management and education in conflict settings, as well as more general topics such as UN Development Assistance Program (UNDAP) – a new coordination mechanism within the UN - or developing collaborations with the broader community. He and Toon are both also very interested in the studying resilience, which he suggested is the flip side of trauma, and how this strength of spirit can be utilized in emergency and/or development programming. They welcome anyone to reach out and connect with them.