This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ 75 for the 75th series, which highlighted 75 notable alumni in FPA in honour of Carleton University’s 75th anniversary. These stories were published in 2016 and 2017.
Programme Officer, United Nations Mine Action Service
Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (’12)
As the military and ISIS, also known as ISIL, battle for control of Iraq, innocent civilians are forced to flee to camps or other cities, hoping that one day, they will return home.
But even returning has become dangerous, as ISIS fighters leave explosives and boobytraps behind as they retreat from the battleground.
Identifying and eliminating the threat posed by those explosive hazards and protecting civilians is the mission of Nicola Sandhu’s team at the United Nations Mine Action Service, a specialized agency that mitigates the threat posed by landmines and munitions.
“The UN established a program in 2015 in response to an emergency caused by ISIL leaving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in newly liberated areas,” explains Ms. Sandhu. “We survey these areas and clear the explosive hazard threat to enable the delivery of aid by humanitarian groups and facilitate people to return home.”
The front-line workers have discovered handmade drones, IEDs embedded in furniture and cooking pots, and devices around bridges and roads. Ms. Sandhu’s team educates residents on what to do if they encounter an explosive hazard.
“We’re working with the government of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan to build their own capacity to manage this,” says Ms. Sandhu.
As a programme officer, she supports the management of the program, facilitates communication between headquarters and the field and works with the international community so that they understand the challenges caused by the explosive contamination in Iraq. She says one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is that she is working to make Iraq safer and stable for communities and civilians for years to come.
Prior to working in Iraq, Ms. Sandhu was posted to Colombia. She credits her experience in the Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (BPAPM) program for opening the door to these opportunities.
“Without Carleton, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Ms. Sandhu, who remembers BPAPM administrator Elaine Rouleau for her unwavering support of the students. “It was so empowering to study in the BPAPM program. Everyone was very motivated and ambitious and it pushed me further.”
Not only did Ms. Sandhu volunteer on Parliament Hill, but she had opportunities to study in Ecuador and Mexico. She recommends current students embrace every opportunity that comes their way.
“You never know where life will take you. I changed my dream career 50 times,” she says with a laugh. “Take advantage of everything Carleton offers.”
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