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A 1990 Niverville Collegiate Institute graduate says to not be limited by the immediate opportunities around you.

Tricia Wachtendorf is a director at the University of Delaware Disaster Research Centre and was recently able to meet with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in regards to crisis response and community impact.

Wachtendorf says, growing up, she was interested in issues having to do with social justice and it was while attending the University of Manitoba she stumbled upon a course about the psychology of women. She notes halfway through the semester the professor went to Uganda and her work focused on women, children, and HIV/AIDS. Wachtendorf says she became very interested in that line of work and began taking courses which led her to the Disaster Research Centre.

"When I was in high school I certainly had no idea there was a field of disaster science. I didn't know about programs that were out there. It's a matter of taking advantage of different opportunities to stretch your mind and your outlook. Thinking about university, for me to take a range of classes and stumble upon a class that really seemed to resonate, to get insights from people who were working in different community environments, doing that harm reduction, those were things that really informed my outlook. I think as you become exposed to people who have a new way of looking at things, who have a new idea that builds into your overall outlook, that might give you ideas on how you can really push forward."

2017 10 tricia2Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Disaster Research Centre director Tricia Wachtendorf. (Photo credit: Evan Krape)Wachtendorf says after the recent set of hurricanes to impact the U.S. the Disaster Research Centre had a Facebook Live video to respond to the events and share insights from their work.

"We talked in that video about the challenges of donations and humanitarian relief, evacuation challenges, the differential experiences of people impacted by disasters."

She notes this caught the attention of Zuckerberg and his team which prompted their interest in meeting with the Disaster Research Centre team during a series of visits around the country, in an effort to learn more about a variety of issues.

"Partnerships and building relationships before a disaster happens is critical," notes Wachtendorf. "We talked a little bit about the stress, the disaster impacted communities face in the recovery period as well as some of those root causes that leave marginalized segments of the community more vulnerable."

She adds it's great to be able to bring their findings to a platform like Facebook so a better practice may be able to be developed on the ground to aid people in a disaster situation to increase response and disaster management.

"People will gravitate to the platforms that they use most often. If they're familiar with those types of platforms, to be able to use them in a disaster, in the same way they might use them to organize a community event. I think the extent to which those corporations who are using, who are developing those platforms, can really be responsive, that's one of the things that really contributes to improving disaster management at a formal level but also at a community level."

Wachtendorf says her advice to young people is to be open to trying new things and having an outlook beyond their comfort zone.

"I think it's also valuable to note that creating change or having an impact on the world doesn't have to take place in a faraway place. The community members who were around the table when we met with Mark Zuckerberg are working to change the lives of people in their local communities. There are many ways to enhance tolerance, contend with equity and social justice, and improve people's lives in our local communities. That's true in the communities the Disaster Research Centre studies and it's true in southeastern Manitoba."


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