Look at this photo. What do you see? Those are the eyes of a Peruvian boy. If I had to guess I’d say he was around 10 years old. His cheeks are red from the merciless sun and wind of the high Andes. You can’t see it in this cropped photo but he’s wearing a purple sweater with a dirty blue shirt underneath it. His pants show signs of repair and mismatched threads stick out here and there. The photo doesn’t show you his worn rubber sandals that instantly mark him as a “campesino.” It doesn’t show you his rough hands and it doesn’t show you the blade he’s holding in them. Continue reading
MOST PEOPLE looking for a career that is both meaningful and includes world travel will have at least toyed with the idea of becoming an aid worker. After all, aid workers — or at least our perception of aid workers — get to go to exotic locations, have daring adventures, and help people, maybe even save a few lives.
For those seriously considering becoming a professional humanitarian, allow me to suggest MoreAltitude’s five part series on aid work.
Aid Work: A Guide
- Becoming an Aid Worker
- Aid Work is a Profession
- Experience, Education and Personality
- Where do you Fit?
- Count the Cost
MoreAltitude is the blog of a semi-anonymous aid worker who says he works for a international charity that supports emergency relief work. A brief perusal of his blog shows a deep grasp of humanitarian issues to backup his claim.
As I have said before, finding information on becoming an aid worker can be confusing. It is often unclear what degrees are needed and what experience is required or even what exactly aid workers do. In his guide, MoreAltitude touches on each of these questions and provides helpful resources. His series is one of the best I have found on the subject.
He tackles difficult issues with both honesty and in some cases humor. His Day in the Life of an Aid Worker article is both soul crushing in it’s depiction of bureaucratic nightmares and chuckle worthy when he describes an unfortunate run in with bad curry.
His willingness to share both triumph and frustration set his guide apart from others. He does not hide the fact that the reality of aid work is harsh. It requires long hours of hard work, often with little reward. Those moments when smiling children welcoming you and your truck of medical supplies to their village are rare, if they exist at all.
Perhaps then, it is no surprise that his links to job boards and further reading come only at the end of the guide. In the last section, He cautions idealists to strongly consider what they are getting into.
“Aid work is an intoxicating, exciting and richly rewarding career. When it works. Often it doesn’t. Often things like politics, corruption, violence, interpersonal relationships, or sheer incompetence means that things fall apart. Things, like projects designed to save peoples lives. This can shake the strongest of people. When people are driven by values and a belief in the greater good of humankind, watching this sort of failure can leave them deeply wounded. I’ve known of it costing people their faith in humanity and in God.”
There is little romance in aid work, this much he makes clear. Still, many people are aware of this and continue to pursue the career. For them, this guide will be a valuable resource. It addresses not only the how but the why (and the why not) of becoming an aid worker.
Even if the information is not new to the reader, MoreAltitude’s perspective and insight into the humanitarian industry is not to be missed. Becoming an aid worker is not easy. The job market is crowded, the requirements aren’t always clear, and once you get a job, nothing less than your life and sanity are on the line.
If you want a bunch of inspiring stories about people who changed the world, look elsewhere. If you want a real look at the humanitarian industry, this is it.
Photo by Michele Solmi via Flickr.
In 2008, the UK’s Guardian newspaper ran an interesting series of interviews titled “So you want to work in.” One of the interviews that resonated with me brought together several people who worked in international development and asked them how they got their start. You can read it here.
Surprisingly (or not, depending on how long you’ve been around aid work) there is no clear path to a career in global development. All three of the sources recommend doing at lot of volunteer work and internships before getting serious about the job hunt. They reason that it will make you better qualified in an industry where know-how and experience counts for more than degrees.
Ros Armitage who works for the British Red Cross and has the awesome title of “conflict response operations manager,” said, “We’re putting people in difficult situations, so we need to know they can cope and have something to offer… In my mid-20s I was really impatient. I wanted to get going straight into the field, but I had a reality check. A university degree doesn’t give you an automatic entry. Practical experience counts.”
Read the whole article over at the Guardian for more.