A City that Never Sleeps and a Mission that Never Rests by Kevin Doherty (A’20)

by tuftsigl
Aug 15

In New York / Concrete jungle where dreams are made of / There’s nothing you can’t do / Now you’re in New York.

I couldn’t help but think of Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ 2009 anthem as my supervisor and IGL Alumnus Mike Niconchuk and I stepped out from Union Station and into the bustling borough that is Manhattan.  In late July, I accompanied Mike and Beyond Conflict on a three-day trip to New York City, which was the crowning highlight of what has been an incredible summer working with Beyond Conflict.


The months of July and August have centered around finishing the Field Guide for Barefoot Psychologists, an educational and self-care tool for communities affected by forced displacement and conflict. Both an app and a book, the Guide is divided into three components: a narrative portion, a science component, and a library of self-care exercises. After Mike finished the narrative component, I got to be the first set of eyes to read and edit them. As the book component came closer and closer to completion, the next steps became clearer.


It’s been really amazing to see all the work that goes into the creation of something, and the million of hands and minds it passes through. Communication and organization become essential. The app, for example, includes the full text of the book as well as videos of all the self-care exercises. We hired a contractor to build the interface of the app. For the videos, Mike contacted IGL Alumnus Elizabeth Herman A’10 to direct the filming. But videos also need actors. In order to make the videos more transferrable to different cultural contexts, we wanted to separate the visual and audio components. We needed voices. These voices then needed scripts. Enter New York.


To figure out all these moving parts, it was best to meet in person. Elizabeth was in New York City, and so was the app developer. At the same time, Mike was invited to a couple of events, also in NYC. Before I knew it, I was on a train to the Big Apple. I never did figure out why they call it the Big Apple, but over my three days there I experienced a life that felt like something out of a movie. I got to hear a discussion between UN officials, journalists, hedge fund managers, a Tufts biomedical engineering professor, and Mike at the Yale Club about the intersection of technology and refugees. I got to mingle at an art gallery auctioning off photos taken by Syrian refugees of the Zaatari refugee camp in order to raise money for a school of photography in the camp. Better yet, I got to converse with Mike on the train ride down and on our walks from place to place throughout the city, picking his brain and discussing what it means to serve and to sacrifice.


New York City was remarkable; a feat of a place built and wrought through centuries of trial and triumph. Yet I couldn’t shake this feeling of disconnect, that just by some random lottery of birth location here I was munching on olives in a Manhattan art gallery while the very people in those photos on the wall, people my age, languish in the baking heat of a refugee camp. This is no groundbreaking new thought; ultimately, it’s the question of why. As summer comes to a close and school starts up again, it’s time once again to investigate this why — why the world is as it is, and how we can change it.