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On a Mission

When disasters strike, Erin Magee, M.A. ’08, is often there, providing aid.

By Eric Butterman

Erin Magee, M.A. ’08, regional adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), traces her humanitarian career back to her master’s program in diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall.

Through her studies, Magee was exposed to topics such as human rights, peacekeeping, and the responsibility to protect populations after genocide. “Those are some of the same issues that I have to confront in my job now,” she says, which involves looking at these complex topics and complicated emergencies. One of her University classes studied a book written by Samantha Power, the administrator of USAID.

Magee has served all over the world for her job, providing aid in Japan after a tsunami and helping in Haiti after an earthquake. She now makes her home in Costa Rica. She notes that although USAID is known for providing help after disasters, it offers aid in many areas, such as monitoring food security challenges and disease outbreaks.

“The mission is really clear-cut for USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and it’s to save lives, alleviate suffering and reduce the economic and social impact of disasters, and that really resonated with me,” she says.

The tasks of a USAID regional adviser are many. Her deployment in Honduras during the Eta and Iota hurricanes involved talking with people in an evacuation center to find out their needs and what help they had already received, and included working with local government and the rest of the international aid community, triangulating information and coordinating donations.

“A lot of what I’m doing when I go out is looking at the situation to find that strategy for how we’re going to respond,” she says.

Seton Hall professor Philip Moremen remembers Magee as an outstanding student and feels rewarded by her achievements. “When you see what she has accomplished, this is what you hope our program can do,” he says. “You want to see students engaged in the future work. We pride ourselves also on our encouragement in the areas of internships and know the difference they can make. Many times the ones you take help give you strong applicable experience, and this was clearly the case with Erin.”

Magee learned about USAID and its work when she was an intern with United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United States Mission to the United Nations’ Military Staff Committee.

“The mission is really clear-cut for USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and it’s to save lives, alleviate suffering and reduce the economic and social impact of disasters, and that really resonated with me,” she says.

She began working at USAID in 2008 and has been with the organization since, except for a brief stint with Vermont Emergency Management. She started as an information officer, and credits Seton Hall with developing her communication skills and the ability to write more concisely. She had the opportunity to cover Asia and the Pacific during that time, and was deployed to Sri Lanka after floods to report on the situation there and how the U.S. government was helping. “Information is a huge part of disaster response,” she says.

For Magee, the rewarding part of the job now is hearing from people USAID has been able to help get through disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic that cause loss of jobs and income.

“I think a lot of people think of humanitarian assistance as giving out food or other things like that, but we also provide psychosocial support for people who have gone through really traumatic events. … It’s really helping people in a holistic way to be able to get back on their feet.”

Eric Butterman has written for more than 50 publications, including Glamour and Men’s Journal.

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