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U of R alumnus part of Nobel Peace Prize team

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: April 16, 2021 1:00 a.m.

Regan Shercliffe and his daughter Emm on the Via Fancigena, the common name of an ancient road and pilgrim route running from Rome to Canterbury, England.
Regan Shercliffe and his daughter Emm on the Via Fancigena, the common name of an ancient road and pilgrim route running from Rome to Canterbury, England. Photo courtesy of Regan Shercliffe

On any given day, the World Food Programme (WFP) has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move, delivering food and other necessities to those in need around the globe. Each year the organization distributes more than 15 billion food rations to 97 million people in 88 of the poorest countries in the world.

For its efforts to combat hunger, its contribution to bettering conditions in conflict-affected areas, and its driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020

One of the individuals who can rightfully claim a share of that Nobel prize is University of Regina alumnus and former associate professor of psychology at Luther College, Regan Shercliffe BA(Hons)’94. In the past 11 years Shercliffe has worked as a staff counsellor with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and he’s currently the chief of staff counselling for WFP. Shercliffe, a clinical psychologist, supervises and works with 22 staff counsellors who are posted all over the world.

Those counsellors are in place to help the mental wellness of frontline humanitarian workers who operate in complex environments characterized by protracted problems such as wars and civil strife, severe levels of poverty and famine, personal tragedies, and natural disasters. Humanitarian aid workers have an overwhelming workload, lack privacy and personal space, and are separated from family and friends for extended periods of time.

“Any time you are engaged in a vocation where you are literally saving lives in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, the rewards are very high but the challenges are equally high,” says Shercliffe. “Some of our staff are exposed to critical events on a regular basis. They can work very long hours for long periods of time and they live and work in very difficult conditions. Over time these experiences can compound and impact the physical and psychological wellbeing of staff.”

In emergencies, WFP is often first on the scene, providing food assistance to the victims of war, civil conflict, drought, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, crop failures and natural disasters. When the emergency subsides, WFP helps communities rebuild shattered lives and livelihoods.

“I very much enjoy the work I do with WFP and I am very grateful to be involved with such a great organization,” says Shercliffe. “I get the opportunity to work for one of the largest humanitarian agencies in the world (19,000+ staff and $7 billion budget) and work with a group of  highly motivated and dedicated people where the job isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation. From a professional standpoint it’s a very unique position where not only is my unit working to support staff in a manner consistent with the provision of psychological services but we also get to work on projects that encourage a proactive approach to wellbeing in the holistic sense of the word. I also want to highlight that our staff are very resilient. Part of that has to do with a sense of meaning derived from the work, which is a protective factor against prolonged psychological distress.” 

Established in 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer, Alfred Nobel. The awards are also presented in the categories of Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. 

Shercliffe, who lives in Rome, says of the prize that it’s “absolutely humbling” but he adds that more importantly it provides a platform to talk about the hundreds of millions of people, who through no fault of their own, go to bed hungry every night. 

For more than a decade Shercliffe has travelled to and worked with UN staff in over 30 countries embroiled in strife including Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Egypt, and Lebanon. He says that his comfort level for working in war zones and being shelled and shot at first took hold while he was a U of R student. 

“I was exposed to some inspiring professors who lived and breathed social justice and who focused on the global context,” he says. “That experience resonated pretty deeply and after I finished my graduate degrees and worked for a while, I was I fortunate to have the opportunity to join the United Nations. I have learned so much from working and living in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and now Europe. I have met some of the most interesting people you can imagine and I am able to see how my little corner of the humanitarian endeavour is making a difference. This line of work isn’t for everyone but I believe you are lucky if you can earn a living engaged in an enterprise that aligns with your beliefs, values, and interests.”  

Shercliffe encourages everyone to learn more about the work of WFP and other humanitarian organizations and to look for ways to become involved both locally and globally.