Craig Browne currently works for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) – Libya, based in Tunisia, where he coordinates food assistance for refugees in the country. He received a B.A. in Arabic and Middle East Studies from the University of Exeter in 2013 and an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University in 2015. While at Georgetown, Craig focused on politics and studied Syria and Iraq, with some additional work on Western Sahara. At the time this Q&A was conducted, Craig was stationed in Iraq as a WFP Programme Officer.
What led you to work with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Iraq, specifically?
For me it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. An opportunity came up and I was ready and willing to move to Baghdad on short notice. I have always been most interested in the Levant and focused on the region during my time at CCAS, so when the opportunity to live and work in Iraq came up, and for the UN — an organization I’ve always been interested in — I didn’t need to think twice.
How is your experience living and working in Iraq?
Intriguing. Wonderful. Awful. Inspiring. Heart-breaking. It’s a hard place to sum up. I love most of the food and most of the people, the work is fascinating, to the point where I do feel like I’m contributing to making people’s lives at least tolerable. I’ve made local and international friends in both Baghdad and Erbil with all sorts of backgrounds so there’s rarely a dull moment. And life is actually quite comfortable for most people now; very different from when I first arrived in January 2016 when ISIS controlled a huge amount of territory.
How did you become interested in the MENA region?
I’ve always been interested in the Middle East and I think this ultimately stems to growing up in a time dominated by events such as 9/11 and the war in Iraq. I can’t say that I was particularly knowledgeable about the region but I was interested enough to study Arabic and Middle East studies back in the UK for my undergraduate degree. My year abroad in Damascus was really when I knew that this was a part of the world I would like to stay in: incredible cultures, histories, and food, interesting politics, and some really amazing people.
What’s a typical day for you?
I’m currently a Programme Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme in Iraq, where I coordinate the food assistance provided to Syrian refugees in the country. Much of my day is filled with the administrative and technical tasks needed to ensure that thousands of Syrian families in need get food assistance each month. I visit the nine refugee camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on a regular basis to ensure feedback from people in need is being heard and the programme is running as it is supposed to. There are so many moving parts involved to ensure distributions happen, which means I’m often attending planning and coordination meetings with other UN agencies or NGOs.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job?
I do my best to ensure food insecure Syrian refugees get the food that they need and the fact that I am a part of this support system is really fulfilling. That said, it’s quite demoralizing speaking to these families who had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice and are still in refugee camps 6 years later, with little expectation that they will return home soon.
By Brittni Foster
Brittni is a sophomore at Tufts University majoring in Arabic/Middle Eastern Studies/International Relations. She wrote this Q&A while interning at CCAS during the summer of 2017.