TRIPOLI, Libya–Rhitu Siddharth’s Indian history, professional and education background and past experiences have shaped her life, today. Ms. Siddharth has provided humanitarian and political leadership as a UN official for close to eighteen years in conflict zones, natural disaster and humanitarian situations.
In her early twenties, Ms. Siddharth was an intern on immigration and international adoption issues for the late Senator Edward Kennedy based in his office in Boston. She received a scholarship from the Indian American Political Forum of Massachusetts and later, a fellowship from the United Nations. She created the first resettlement program for children while a summer intern at the International Institute in Boston. And she also spent a summer with the Reebok Human Rights Department in Massachusetts working on issues tackling child labor to identifying recipients related to their human rights award.
Ms. Siddharth has 18 years of dedicated service in helping others. She has diverse interests in culture, history, politics, justice and religion. Her Indian immigrant background drives her passion to work in the humanitarian, development and political fields. Her parents created a new life, while introducing her to brilliant India. During trips around the world, she was exposed to poverty. And wondered who would help them? How did people with so little be happy in stark difference to those with money? She wanted to help others and explore these power relations.
On March 6, Ms. Siddharth will be honored as one of the 20 Outstanding Women of 2021 during the 18th Annual Woman of the Year Awards ceremony— to be held virtually this year. To buy a ticket, please click here.
She served the United Nations and World Bank in New York and Washington, DC but mainly in trouble spots around the globe, such as Sudan, Haiti, Lebanon, Syria, Bangladesh and now Libya. From 2013 to 2014, Ms. Siddharth was picked to join the UN Mission overseeing the removal of chemical weapons in Syria leading to the demise of the use of their chemical warfare programs by all actors in that country. She returned to Syria from 2015- 2017, with a UN team, delivering urgent humanitarian assistance, medical items, food, shelter to millions of people who found themselves in a full-scale conflict in Syria. This meant planning humanitarian processes to jumping on convoy trucks with aid to deliver to Syrians living in Government controlled and non-state armed groups-controlled areas.
Ms. Siddharth is based in Tripoli, Libya working for the UN on humanitarian and development issues to the people in need during a complex, active conflict since the fall of Gaddafi.
Prior, she was in South Africa and Geneva working on refugee issues and was briefly in Bangladesh as part of the team on relief efforts of the 1 million Rohingya refugees that fled Myanmar to safety. Ms. Siddharth was part of the humanitarian efforts to the Haiti earthquake that claimed the lives of 230,000 people in 2010. She worked with the UN Security Council secretariat at UN HQ in New York. For two years in Sudan during the times of President Bashir who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), she worked with the UN on advancing the human rights agenda, including in Darfur to South Sudan. She was also working on the border between Lebanon and Israel contributing to the monitoring of the cessation of hostilities. She also shortly volunteered at an orphanage in Mali.
INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Rhitu Siddharth: I have a true passion working for the United Nations, in the field where people are in need the most. Any act of kindness and compassion should not be undermined; whether it be to your family, friends or a stranger. The UN works for me, imperfect as it may be- as still the largest, recognized international organization that joins forces to save and protect lives, reach peace and collective security and fight injustice. It is not an easy life; living in war zones, moving from locations but I continue to learn about fabrics that bring individuals together as communities and States. I still find beauty and hope in some of the most tragic situations from working in Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Haiti, Mali, Bangladesh and Sudan to name a few. We can change the course of humanity.
INE: If you’re engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this group and what do you do for them?
RS: I do not publicize my charity work as I find it quite private. Under certain circumstances, it could be paying for a child’s school tuition, taking care of repairs to a house used as shelter, providing advice and finances for someone to find passage or getting out of a violent situation or volunteering your time for a good cause. I find RefugeePoint to be a true non-profit organization and worked with them to find joint projects on helping and finding solutions for refugees.
INE: What are your hobbies and interests?
RS: I love to travel and learn. I am a movie and tv series fanatic. Anyone who knows me, knows I rather spend my time with dogs over humans.
INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?
RS: I am finally at the age where I can mentor others who are studying, beginning their careers or at a crossroads. These discussions are usually through my friends’ children, my alumni networks or at work. Learn from my mistakes.
INE: Your rare talent?
RS: I am naturally funny.
INE: Your favorite books?
RS: The Unfettered Mind: Writings of Zen Master to the Sword Master. It is a translation from 16th century concepts of mindfulness, being free and weapon of choice.
INE: Your favorite quotes?
RS: The Little Prince: “It is only in the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
INE: Who inspires you the most?
RS: People who are courageous in their own way. I admire someone like celebrated singer Ella Fitzgerald who mixed her professional ability with fighting for social justice. She was forced to face racial discrimination including performances canceled at venues or being denied access to board a commercial flight because she was an African American that rose above stereotypes.
INE: Your core value you try to live by?
RS: Live your own life.