“I felt so nurtured, encouraged and cared for at Augustana,” Naomi Armstrong reflects. “Which is a feeling I now try to create within my clients—people who have lived through disasters. I want to treat them as whole, respected persons like I was treated by the professors at Augustana.”
Hailing from Hinton, Alberta, Naomi chose Augustana because of its smaller size and the outdoor studies program. Originally starting out in general studies, Naomi changed her major three times before settling on Global Development Studies after taking part in the Mexico Rural Development Exchange in 2003/2004. During this program, she lived with a local Mexican host family that she is still in contact with today. During a 2006 trip to India with professors Jack Waschenfelder and Varghese Manaloor, she continued to discover her passion for development work. Her time in Mexico and India inspired her to pursue a career in trying to address the inequities in the world. Upon graduating from Augustana, Naomi pursued a master’s degree in Public Health, focusing on health and its social inequities, at Simon Fraser University in BC.
Naomi now works as the manager of a Community Partnerships Program for B.C. Wildfire Recovery at the Canadian Red Cross, which provides financial relief and program support to communities who have experienced a disaster. Naomi is motivated by the question: “How do we help without harm?” Last year, when 65 000 families were evacuated because of wildfires in British Columbia, Naomi was busy assisting families and community organizations for months. “It is hard to see the suffering and struggle because prolonged struggle can produce such terrible results,” Naomi says. One of the challenges she is constantly aware of is how to provide temporary financial help within disastrous situations while remaining sensitive to avoiding the development of an enduring dependency upon the assistance she can offer. A delicate balance and partnerships with key local players are required.
“My job is humbling—to be invited in to assist is emotional and impactful. Disasters can bring out beautiful things. I love witnessing the inspiring dedication and sacrifices being made during recoveries. It encourages me to continue doing what I do.” This sentiment returns Naomi’s thoughts to her roots at Augustana, where she felt supported as a partner in her studies. She supports her current clients by trying to walk alongside them, as she did her host family in Mexico, temporarily sharing their reality, where possible, so that she could gain perspective regarding their needs and concerns. She is guided by what she learned in India and Mexico: victims of circumstance are human beings who deserve, always, to be treated with dignity and humanity.