"CHIARA RUFFA: How do civil-military interactions impact conflict arenas?"
Ruffa is a research fellow in the International Security Program
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
With an interest in international events and medicine in high school, Chiara Ruffa dreamed of joining Doctors without Borders. A fear of surgeries kept her from becoming a doctor, but it did not stop her from crossing borders. Now, a fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center, Ruffa’s extensive travels inspire her research of complex humanitarian emergencies, specifically the interaction between local populations and intervening actors.
Field experience has been a critical force in shaping Ruffa’s academic research and understanding of the world. Ruffa said, “I have lived a lot in war torn countries. I lived in Lebanon, in the Central African Republic, but I think that Afghanistan has changed me profoundly and has really taught me how we should actually all be much more respectful of local ownership and what the actual local population wants to achieve.”
Ruffa lived in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2009 as she sought to understand the complex relationship between different types of international actors and the local population. She worked with Intersos, an Italian humanitarian NGO, and observed units of the Italian and French armies. With Intersos, Ruffa worked as a communications officer throughout the country in Kabul, Heart, Farah and Kandahar. This travel allowed Ruffa to experience the diversities across Afghanistan. “I could see with my own eyes the diversity across region that I had only heard about: People's colors, traits, smiles were varied and how ‘visible’ women were varied too accordingly to what covered them…I could feel and taste a different threat level, higher in the South and in Kabul, lower in Herat, where we were even allowed to take a walk of ten minutes outside the compound.”
Ruffa’s experience with Intersos and military units combined with her cultural submersion in Afghanistan changed her understanding of the international reconstruction effort. “Before going there and spending months in Afghanistan, I had completely underestimated two things: how the lack of coordination among agencies could damage the entire Western effort in the country and also how there may be realities/contexts that are very hard to accept and understand,” said Ruffa. For example, she said, organizations would frequently be working on similar projects at schools or hospitals and have no idea of the presence of other groups.
Ruffa continued, “The second issue I was confronted with was the interaction between 'me' and 'them', the Afghan... I was fascinated and yet not feeling welcome [at first] but then was surprised by the generosity and pride of these people.” Ruffa examined the dual natures of Afghanistan as she explored a land torn apart by war yet also filled with a diverse classical heritage and people, similar to that explored by scholar Peter Levi in The Light Garden of the Angel King. “This is Afghanistan: the land of the Taliban and of the 'light garden of the angel king' at the same time. All in one,” said Ruffa.
The influence of her time in Afghanistan can be seen in her current research at the Belfer Center. Ruffa, in collaboration with other ISP fellows, is studying the civil-military interactions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. She is focusing on the complexities of Afghanistan due to the high concentration of NGOs, UN agencies, the U.S. agencies, and U.S. and NATO mission of Enduring Freedom and other troops. This example of collaborative work with other fellows is what Ruffa admires about the Belfer Center, “the greatest resource of the Belfer Center is the fellows. They have been an endless source of inspiration, motivation for me.”
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