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Summer 2003


photo by Richard Howard  
Fulfilling a Dream

Back to the main story
See Voices from the Field

It’s been a long, winding journey for Heinz Henghuber—from the executive suites of Microsoft through the rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone to the classrooms of the Fletcher and Friedman schools.

The 43-year-old German is one of five students currently enrolled in the five-year-old Master of Arts in Humanitarian Assistance (MAHA) program, an intensive one-year joint degree offered by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Fletcher School.

Although a little older than the average MAHA student, Henghuber is typical in many ways. He hails from abroad, has significant field experience, and plans to resume his humanitarian work when the program ends, ideally in a more senior role. He was drawn to Tufts because of its superb reputation in humanitarian circles.

“The program gives me the academic background that will support my work in the field,” says Henghuber, who hopes to return to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) upon completion of his degree. Before arriving at Tufts, Henghuber did two stints with the organization, first serving in Sierra Leone as a financial coordinator for MSF’s emergency medical assistance projects, then in Afghanistan, where he supervised a healthcare program in an isolated rural area.

The only program of its type in the country, the humanitarian master’s gives its students a thorough grounding in the theoretical as well as the pragmatic.
“Humanitarian workers have commitment, courage, and many specific skills, but I have yet to meet one who actually trained for his or her job,” says Peter Walker. “Often, they rapidly gain field experience, then realize there are big gaps in their knowledge, analyses, and skills. That’s where the MAHA degree comes in.”

For instance, in one course Henghuber examines the ethics and moral values that inform humanitarian action and development. In another, he is creating a mock relief organization, learning about the practicalities of advocacy and fundraising.
In a sense, Henghuber’s career path has come full circle. In his early 20s, he worked as a nurse’s aide in a home for the disabled, and even traveled to India to work with Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. But he ultimately used his degree in business administration to climb the corporate ladder at Microsoft, eventually becoming the head of finance and administration for the company’s Swiss and Austrian operations.

“One of my dreams when I left the for-profit world was to spend a year in the U.S. studying something I felt passionate about,” says Henghuber. “The MAHA program fulfills that dream.”—VR