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Forage Center News

Alumni Corner - Journalist & Humanitarian Omar al-Mashhadani

8/24/22, 4:00 AM

Omar A al-Mashhadani, Forage Corps Alumni ‘22 shares his Costero experience

In June 2022, Omar al-Mashhadani arrived in Costero, a fictional country, carrying a suitcase, ready to learn by a campfire.

Joined by nine graduate students, al-Mashhadani served as an advance team tasked with creating a humanitarian aid needs assessment during a four-day, full-immersion simulation. The experience tested the students’ grit, classroom and professional knowledge, and pushed them to leave their expectations at the first security checkpoint.

“Prepare for the unexpected,” al-Mashhadani later reported.

What were your expectations prior to the simulation?

I expected a 1-2-3 approach. We talk about this, it leads to that, and we get to the end. Like in a classroom. This wasn’t like that. I didn’t expect so many interviews or interaction with Costerans. It was all very real. And minutes before it ended, we were still trying to write a report. We wanted to finish the report - we asked to finish it and after we knew it was over!

The experience exceeded my expectations; everything was very real from the very beginning. I wasn’t expecting checkpoints, cooking, no showers, tents, or security. I was deployed to Costero, and even now, I believe I was in a foreign country.

What are some take-aways from your experience at the simulation?

This has helped me understand the work humanitarians are doing on the ground; what they do - negotiations, the steps they have to take to stay safe, their challenges, and their desire to really help. How important some things are, like going in pairs everywhere you go - that’s something you can read about, but you’re not prepared for it until you experience something like this.

As a journalist I’ve covered and witnessed invasions, conflicts, disasters. Now I have a deeper appreciation for what humanitarians do. I understand it better and it will help in future stories.

What would you tell future Forage Corps Alumni?

There isn’t a single book that will teach you what you will learn in Costero. If any student wants to pursue a humanitarian field career, you can’t miss this. This experience is unique and it explains what it’s like to be a humanitarian, the differences, the opportunities. There’s nothing like Forage Corps.

Omar al-Mashhadani is a reporter, radio broadcaster, and recent graduate of George Mason University.

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