UNT Alumna Sarah Nowery Brings Disaster Relief to Those Suffering Around the World
When disasters strike, UNT alumna Sarah Nowery (’05, ’07) responds. Currently serving as information and communications officer for Samaritan’s Purse – Iraq, Nowery has worked on more than 22 responses to global emergencies resulting from wars, famines, complex crises and natural disasters, and UNT has played a major role in helping to prepare her for a challenging yet rewarding career.
Nowery was raised in a military family and lived all over the world but claimed Montana as home. She moved to Texas after high school and was initially interested UNT’s pre-med program but had a change of plans upon discovering another program that piqued her interest.
“I planned to go into medicine, but I knew that I wanted to work in the disaster response field,” said Nowery. “I was excited to learn about UNT’s pioneering program in emergency administration and disaster planning. It was a perfect fit for my career goals.”
As an undergraduate, Nowery became the first participant of the North Texas in D.C. (NTDC) Internship Program, working as a press assistant for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the senior senator from Texas.
“I had an interest in policy development on a federal level, and this experience gave me a front row seat to watch our government craft policy,” said Nowery. “I am now working as a communications officer for a disaster response organization, and I always remember that my first understanding of the importance of good communication came from my time as a NTDC intern.”
The NTDC Program celebrated its 15th anniversary in April, and Nowery was recognized as “trailblazer” at the event.
Knowing that she would need an advanced degree to be competitive in her field, Nowery applied and was accepted to programs at UNT, Syracuse and the University of Denver. However, UNT awarded her a Sumners Scholarship, which afforded her the opportunity to work as a research assistant to faculty who were well respected in the EADP field.
“The program chair at the time was very supportive of me as I reached out to other departments to take electives which allowed me to craft the sub-focus that combined my studies of disaster response with development,” said Nowery. “The staff and faculty were excellent in their show of support for my educational goals, and I could not turn down the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the field.”
Pursuing her MPA with a focus on emergency assistance and disaster relief in the developing world also reaffirmed Nowery’s desire to work in disaster relief and expanded her understanding of the field.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in the public service sector, but it wasn’t until I was older that I developed an interest in disaster relief specifically,” she said. “During graduate school, I had an internship at USAID in Washington, D.C. I valued the time I had working in D.C., but I also realized that I wanted to find a career that would allow me to work in the field. I found myself more interested in the short-term response and recovery phases of disaster relief versus long-term development work, although my experiences have now solidified my understanding that the two (disaster relief and development) are inextricably linked.”
After graduation, Nowery began her work with Samaritan’s Purse, where she oversaw the development of the SP disaster response curriculum and training for all SP response staff. Her work took her to major responses in places like Darfur, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Mexico and Ecuador. In 2009, she moved to the Nuba Mountains of Sudan to work with a program responding to the needs of Sudanese who had been heavily oppressed by the northern government. In 2010, she relocated to northern Iraq to establish programs to aid the victims of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal Campaign.
Nowery has worked with a team to respond to the massive needs of Iraqis fleeing ISIS and those people further displaced by the response to drive ISIS from Mosul. This response included robust partnerships with WFP, UNICEF and WHO, and saw the deployment of an emergency field hospital to the outskirts of Mosul as Iraqi Security Forces fought to regain control of the city.
“Literally, overnight hundreds of thousands were displaced, wandering on the streets, with restricted access to food, water and shelter,” said Nowery. “Our team rallied, and with the reinforcements of additional team members serving as a DART (disaster assistance response team), we grew from a small team of five ex-pats and 20 national staff to more than 300 ex-pats and nationals. We went on to establish a world-class field hospital that we were eventually able to transition to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Our team is still working with people who want to return to their homes in and around Mosul.”
Though her job can be demanding, Nowery receives support from her husband, Matthew, who also serves as a humanitarian worker in Iraq, and their son and two daughters. She also holds steadfast to her mission of helping others.
“I am most proud of the fact that we have developed a truly international team, with people from all over the world, partnered with Iraqis who are all passionate about their work and our mission as an organization. Iraq is not an easy, or at times safe place to work, but our team believes that there is hope and is dedicated to serving even during the most difficult times.”
Photos courtesy of Samaritan's Purse