Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why Humanitarian Aid Work?

Greetings and thank you for visiting my blog! As I mentioned in the first posting, this blog will explore thoughts and perspectives on Global Development and Humanitarian Aid, as related to our upcoming Global Development and Humanitarian Aid Training Program at La Roche College, June 30 - July 13 2013. Through the training program, we hope to attract recent graduates and established professionals who are looking to enter or enhance a career in Development and Humanitarian Aid.
In this particular posting, I will offer some basics, such as what aid workers do, why people enter into this field, and what it may require. As you know, there is a great need for Humanitarian Aid Workers (HAWs).  In 2008, $6.6 billion was spent on international emergency response efforts - a 3-fold increase since 2000 - and 210,800 humanitarian workers were working globally – an annual increase of 6%. Many countries, including Australia and those in the EU are incorporating these needs in new initiatives, such as shown in this video EU Aid Volunteers.

What does a HAW do?  “A Humanitarian Aid Worker operates in areas of the world ravaged by war, natural calamities, or man-made disasters. As a Humanitarian Aid Worker, you work to save people’s lives, ease their pain and suffering, and preserve human dignity. Aid can take many forms. Often, you provide emergency medical services as well as food, shelter, and clean water .Communication is key in a Humanitarian Aid Worker’s job. First of all, you must be able to communicate with the people you’re trying to assist. This means having a familiarity with local languages. You must also be able to efficiently and effectively communicate with other members of your own aid organization when securing resources like food, medical supplies, and personnel. Coordinating with other groups, such as military or police forces involved in keeping the peace, defending the area from attack, or supervising an evacuation or relocation, is also often necessary. The situation on the ground during a crisis is constantly in flux. Because of this, the ability to think quickly and adapt on the fly is critical. Lives are at stake every moment, and the right decision at the right time can save many. However, your life may also be in danger. Keeping a sharp eye on changing conditions and your immediate surroundings can keep you safe so that you can stay alive and continue to provide help to those who need it most.”

Why do people choose to work in development and humanitarian aid? Serving as a HAW can be rewarding, as you serve in the most disadvantaged parts of world to improve life for impoverished people. However, serving as a HAW can be hard work, with tough negotiations, grueling travels, horrific dangers, and little rest, so it helps to have desire & stamina to work in challenging and dangerous environments. Also, it’s good if you like seriously demanding work & creative problem solving – very few international aid agencies do handholding or coddling in the field.

 Action Aid is one of those international organizations working in the field  and Bijay Kumar, its head of Emergencies and Crises Team notes that “it is this sense of solidarity with people who are suffering which motivates humanitarians at all levels – local communities, civil society bodies, and national and international non-governmental organisations – to do the work they do, often in extremely challenging circumstances”. Action Aid also offers an interesting Beginner’s Guide to the field which is really worth reading.  In this guide, there is a particularly interesting discussion of the many ethical dilemmas that a HA worker may face, e.g. Will the provision of free handouts in an emergency situation undermine long-term strategies to promote communities’ self-reliance? And, the need to remain neutral and detached in a conflict situation versus the obligation to take a stand and speak out against human rights abuses committed by one or both sides.

In addition to motivation, training is obviously a key requirement for entering into the field, successfully. One of the exciting developments of the past few years is that the HA field as a whole has begun to identify competencies and skill requirements. Our La Roche College training was designed around these competencies and the next posting will address those competencies and the training requirements in more detail.

In the meantime, take a look at the 2011 World Humanitarian Aid Video and also this piece which offers the story of one humanitarian aid worker in Haiti. Remember that you can subscribe to the blog, using the link at the bottom of the page. Comments and suggestions are also welcome.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Welcome to my blog , Changing the World, One Step at a Time! In this blog, I will offer thoughts and perspectives on Global Development and Humanitarian Aid. I will also share details about our upcoming Global Development and Humanitarian Aid Training Program at La Roche College, June 30 - July 13 2013

It has been a great experience, working on the development of this program with my wonderful colleague Jeff Ritter . International Development, Humanitarian Aid, and Social Change have been key interests of mine for as long as I can remember.  This was my chosen field many years ago when I did a Master's in International Affairs at GSPIA and again, more recently when I revisited the field to complete a Masters in International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid from Proyecto Kalu. Also, at La Roche College we have been working with students from wartorn regions all over the world for many years now through the Pacem in Terris Institute .

Developing our new training program was a natural extension of the College's commitment to creating a better world, our own interests in social change, and of course, the urgent need in the world for people to be trained in how to offer humanitarian aid. For many young people today, the field of humanitarian aid is a great path: it offers a way to use your education - regardless of the field in which you have specialized- and a way to make a meaningful contributions. Also, for many people who are considering a career change, this is a really valuable option to consider. 

A few statistics to think about:
  •  in 2008, $6.6 billion was spent on international emergency response efforts, a 3fold increase since 2000
  • also in 2008, 210,800 humanitarian workers operated globally, with an annual increase of 6%
Here are a couple of nice videos to look at - as a first way to begin to imagine and visualize:

Keep coming back for updates and additions. I will talk about the field of Humanitarian Aid, career options within the field, professional standards and competencies, and also, my own career journey, including my recent extended stay in the Solomon Islands, South Pacific where my profile picture was taken as part of our 16 Days of Activism against Domestic Violence organizing effort.