02 November 2023

Facing Natural Disasters and Ecological Challenges in Istanbul with Project Aladdin

Student of International & Development Studies with a focus on Global Health, Ryan Abraham shares his experience at the International University for Intercultural Leadership in Istanbul, a program that brings together students from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas together for two weeks every year to gather and build intercultural skills while studying a chosen topic. Launched by the NGO Project Aladdin, the program is supported by UNESCO and takes place in Istanbul, Turkey. The 2023 edition focused around the topic: How natural disasters and ecological challenges impact a fractured world?

What do you study and what drew you to participate in Project Aladdin’s International University for Intercultural Leadership?
I am a master’s in international and development studies (MINT) student in the Global Health specialization track. I decided to apply for the programme because this year’s theme was “How Natural Disasters Impact a Fragmented Community”. Coming from a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Trinidad and Tobago, and after experiencing the effects of hurricanes and earthquakes as well as the ever-increasing effects of climate change, I decided to invest in numerous trainings on disaster diplomacy, especially those that intersect health. Project Aladdin’s theme this year provided a much-desired learning experience.

This year’s gathering focused on the study of international responses to changing environments and natural catastrophes. Can you tell us more? What unique expertise did you encounter?
The world currently faces the dual paradigm of climate change due to increased global warming and a transition to a multipolar world order due to the rise of China and other BRICS countries for example. This dynamic has created a polarity when it comes to financial aid. The subjects of who receives aid and who gives it depend heavily on those involved. From an environmental standpoint, I learned the importance of mangroves. They have tremendous capacity as carbon absorbers and also create habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. My country has mangroves, so learning about their benefits has created awareness and activism within me to preserve and expand those already in place.

With the programme taking place in Istanbul only months after the devastating earthquake in Southern Turkey and Syria, what was it like?
The earthquake is what fueled this year’s Project Aladdin’s theme. Thankfully, where we stayed in Istanbul was largely unaffected, though through the project we learnt that Istanbul is projected to have a huge earthquake sometime soon. It was clear through the various lectures and engagements we had that the earthquake in Turkey and Syria really was the background of the seminar as the event and its ramifications came up numerous times.

The International University for Intercultural Leadership brings together students from over 70 universities. What new perspectives on the topic were you able to gain from interacting with students from so many different environments?
The Aladdin Project, based in Istanbul Turkey, gave me many insights I didn’t have previously, particularly religious insights. Coming from a traditionally Christian background, I would consider myself knowledgeable about various sects of Christianity. Partaking in the Aladdin Project gave me a much deeper understanding of Judaism and Islam, and the workings of each on its own as well as the complex interplay these two religions in addition to Christianity have on the Middle East region. Cumulatively, it made me appreciate the value of mutual respect among various peoples as only by understanding and respecting each other, can there ever be lasting peace.


The programme requires you to complete a research project in the months following. What subject did your experience in Istanbul inspire you to pursue in depth?
Though the conference happened in Turkey, it is an international form. My group consisted of members from Libya, Germany and Lebanon. Together, we decided to focus on my home country of Trinidad and Tobago, as being a SIDS, it is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Our project focuses on civil society engagement in disaster preparedness in Trinidad and Tobago, using the country as a case study for other SIDS.