Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, George Clooney, an actor and human rights activist, praised the humanitarian work of a Harvard group.
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, an organization based primarily at the Harvard School of Public Health that brings together undergraduates and graduate students to work on a variety of social action projects, contributes to the Satellite Sentinel Project which Clooney co-founded.
Speaking of the Harvard students’ contributions to his efforts to expose the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, Clooney said to the Congressional committee, “They stay up all night working. They’re young people and they’re just doing it.... They’re all heart.”
The Satellite Sentinel Project, founded in 2010, uses satellites to capture images of areas in Sudan where humanitarian violations may occur. Students working at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analyze the data that the satellite cameras collect and that workers in Sudan communicate.
The combination of human reports and photographic evidence lets Harvard analysts “see beyond a shadow of a doubt what is happening” in troubled regions, said Benjamin I. Davies, the deputy director of operations for the satellite program.
Analysis compiled by Harvard students has been cited in the U.S. Senate and British Parliament and published by media outlets on multiple continents.
“Seeing that my work can impact policy is extremely fulfilling,” said Jody P. Heck ’14, a member of the analysis team. “It’s exciting to go to work every day knowing that I have an effect.”
Furthermore, the vital information makes its way to the Sudanese people.“One of our biggest fans is Sudan,” Davies said. “One time, we issued a report about a city that was about to be invaded, and the radios picked it up within hours. This led to the evacuation of 15,000 people out of a city that was about to be attacked.”
Satellite technology, unprecedented in the field of humanitarian aid, has been key to the project’s prominent accomplishments. “We are the only people who are getting great information as well as visuals out to the people,” Davies said. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative addresses a variety of global problems through hands-on research.
“It’s a credit to Harvard that HHI is here and pushing the limits of what is possible,” Davies said. “People come from all over with special skill sets, young people who have driven this product from day one.”
Heck added, “People who care so much about the work make for an awesome environment. I’m a statistics concentrator, and it’s great to apply what I’m studying on a day-to-day basis while playing on the same team as people like George Clooney.”
Clooney, an actor who starred in films including “Ocean’s 11,” “Up in the Air,” and “The Descendants,” was arrested two days after his testimony while protesting at the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. He was released several hours later after paying a $100 fine.
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