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Welcome!

March 13, 2012

This site is about getting your first job as a humanitarian aid worker. Whether you want to run refugee camps, micro-credit programs or health programs, this is my personal opinion (not my employer’s) about ways to make the transition to international relief and development work.

If you find this site at least as useful as a coffee and a bagel, and wonder how you can possibly thank me, please consider buying my e-book on Amazon! Getting your first job in relief and development. It also helps me to recover some of the costs of hosting this site when people review the e-book – thanks!

My take on getting a job as a humanitarian aid worker is organized by chapters (on the right-hand side under the heading Book chapters) – and is supposed to be read top-to-bottom more or less like a book. Book reviews and other pieces are posted below. Find out more about this blog here.

Please read the disclaimer, and understand that this line of work is not risk free. You need to do your own research, make your own decisions, and take responsibility for them.

If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my new Kindle eBook, which contains much of the content from this site, thoughtfully formatted for off-line reading on a Kindle, iPad, laptop, or other e-reader. It’s $7.99, and honestly, what can you get for that these days? Get it here.

If you have questions please do send them either by email or in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them or find someone who can. I also offer individual coaching services for people who have in-depth questions about their particular situation, want feedback and support with resumes and cover letters, or want interview coaching and critique. To learn more about that see my career coaching page.We answer phones at a relief org, and we direct almost all of our requests for informational interviews to this resource. It's an honest, clear summary of what you need in order to work in international relief. Thanks for this great reference.

Ask your medical questions!

September 20, 2016

No – not about your health – I’ve lined up an interview with a recruiter from Doctors Without Borders next week, and this is your chance to ask them anything you want about volunteering, working, and anything else about medical organizations in humanitarian aid!

Put your questions as comments to this post, and I’ll post the interview next week!

Pay and conditions in relief and development

September 14, 2016

Q. Hi Nick

I have a few questions.

My first one is how much is the average salary? Could I support a family off that money?

My second question is whether it is a full time job?

Lastly, do you get to choose where you want to work, or is it assigned?

A. Hi there – and thanks for the questions!

First. I have no idea how to calculate what an ‘average’ salary in this line of work is. It varies hugely depending on whether you are a volunteer or paid staff, UN, NGO or contractor, local or international, etc, etc. That said. I’m going to give a ballpark of what a US or UK expatriate is going to make working for a medium to large UK or US organization. Project managers might be making anywhere from $25-$35k, while senior managers might be making anywhere from $50k-north of $100k. This is exclusive of any other health / housing benefits.

Second – most field based jobs and most HQ jobs are full time.

Lastly, in most organizations you can, to some extent, choose to apply for where you want to work. That said, there is an informal hierarchy, and more competition for more desirable posts. As an entry level job-seeker you really have to go where the jobs are.

Hope that helps!

Nick

Job posting: Field Director

September 6, 2016

From time to time I get organizations wanting to post positions here, and I’m happy to pass them on. Please note that I have no personal experience with this organization and have not vetted this ad in any way!


Field Director, Team Leader, Greece

Project Hope 4 Kids is a non – governmental, humanitarian organization working to help refugees by creating sustainable projects in the field as well as gathering and distributing aid to the displaced populations in Greece.

Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than at any time since World War II. When the EU borders closed in March 2016, this caused 55,000+ refugees to be stranded in Greece for an indefinite period of time. Thousands and thousands are now living and waiting in government run military camps throughout Greece. Project Hope 4 Kids is providing much needed relief in one of these camps in Greece. We have been working in this particular camp full time since mid – June 2016 where we provide an art therapy program and daily activities for the 200+ children in the camp as well as help run the school program for the children by partnering with the teachers in the camp and teaching the English lessons on a day to day basis.

We are now looking for a full time Field Director and Team Leader for this camp in Greece. Positions of this kind are competitive and hard to come by. This is a tremendous way to obtain hands on field experience in a dynamic and ever changing environment and can lead to amazing opportunities for career growth. You will be working directly in the field and will obtain the experience of a lifetime. We offer a small monthly stipend for this position. If you meet the criteria below and you are passionate, strong, a self starter, determined and most importantly have an immense compassion for the refugee crisis, then please apply by emailing your experience + resume to Erin @ projecthope4kidsnonprofit@gmail.com.

We are also very interested in applicants who would like to do their practicum or internship with us. Project Hope 4 Kids will work closely with your University program to make sure your objectives and goals are met and at the same time give you direct, hands on field experience that is crucial for advancement in this type of field.

Job Description:

  • Capacity to understand and carry out our projects by discovering, researching and continuing to improve our focuses in our camp by working cohesively within the camp along with other key organizations and the military.
  • Teach and instruct our school program in partnership with the teachers
  • Coordinate the day to day art activities with the children
  • Continue the art program for the children by showing strong leadership skills and the ability to take on numerous tasks simultaneously
  • Work alongside and support and empower the residential teachers by providing them resources and teaching the english classes on a daily basis
  • Involve and inform local authorities about the activities and insure all projects are in line with national regulations.
  • Be able to show through weekly reports and photographs the success or improvements that are needed in our projects

Field Director, Team Leader, Greece

• Supervise, train and develop incoming volunteers Qualifications:

  • Undergraduate degree required from a University
  • 2+ month commitment
  • Prefer a Masters or entering the Masters field in humanitarian, public health or crisis work or related field.
  • Be able to show documented results related to the positions responsibilities
  • Knowledge about own leadership and skills
  • Fluency in English, both written and verbal. Knowledge or fluency in additional languages is an advantage.
  • Demonstrated behavior that is professional, ethical, and responsible
  • Ability to perform a variety of tasks, often changing assignments on short notice with little to no direction and be able to manage a very stressful environment.
  • Start Date October 10th approximately

    For additional information about Project Hope 4 Kids, you can find us on Facebook @ “ProjectHope4Kids”.

Education and languages for NGO workers

August 16, 2016
Q. Hello Nick
Thank you for your great article, I have recently graduated from high school and I am very interested in working in the ngo section (certainly with the UN) , I am wondering about two questions, would be very grateful if you are able to give me your opinion.
1- do you think it makes sense to take a volunteer trip abroad before starting my bachelor degree to have more insight into the ngo and humanitarian sector?
2- how many languages are enough to get you a competitive candidate? I speak fluent English and Arabic and currently learning German and French ( hopefully I will be fluent before finishing my university degree)
Thanks,
Elhassan
A. Hi Elhassan,
Thanks for the questions. With regard to the first, ‘yes’. The second is more complicated. The UN has six official languages – you speak two of them, and are learning a third. That’s definitely an advantage for UN recruitment, although you will want to read my article on getting a job with the UN, and check out the massive resources available on this daunting topic.
When we’re talking about organizations other than the UN, it really only matters whether you speak a language that is relevant to the country you’re going to. Arabic is great, but no use if you’re in Honduras.
Good luck!
Nick

Help starving families in the Marine Corps?

June 25, 2016

Q. Dear Nick,
I’m going into the Marine Corps after my senior year ends. I’m looking into becoming a medic. My goal is to make care packages with food, medicine and clothes, have them sent out to wherever I’m deployed come next year and go to local villages with starving families. Provide some help even if it means changing people’s live one at a time. Is their anything in the military such as programs or relief groups that would allow me to do this. If not then how can I serve this movement while still being in the military? Thank you and have a good day.

Axel

A. Dear Axel,

First off, thanks for your question. You sound like a serious and compassionate young man, and I wish you well in what ever you do next. I’m going to give you some frank advice on this though.😉

Your question makes me wonder whether you have any idea what the Marine Corps is. Even as a medic, you will not be making care packages for starving people. The mission of the infantry is to close with and destroy the enemy, hearts and minds campaigns notwithstanding. I suggest you take a look at the movies Restrepo and Korengal for some relatively sobering depictions of what infantry deployments are like these days.

There’s nothing wrong with joining the Marine Corps – there is a need for smart, thoughtful and compassionate people on the frontlines of America’s military engagements, and I have been very grateful at times to be on the right side of US military intervention, but it’s not the Peace Corps.

That said, there are parts of the military that work very closely with the State  Department and other organizations to carry out aid programs, largely in the service of counter-insurgency programs. You might be able to find your way into this kind of unit, but I’m not optimistic. I guess my advice is, if you go into the Marines, go because you want to join the Marines, not because you want to make the Marine Corps the Peace Corps.

Good luck!

Nick

PS. The Marines are not my area of expertise – I’d love anyone with more relevant experience on this to weigh in on opportunities for this kind of service within the armed forces – thanks!


Thanks to Alex for this comment “Would also note that the US Marine Corps does not even have its own medics—the medical personnel who serve with Marines are actually from the US Navy. I would encourage this young man to do a lot more research overall.


If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my Kindle eBook, which contains much of the content from this site, thoughtfully formatted for off-line reading on a Kindle, iPad, laptop, or other e-reader. It’s $7.99, and honestly, what can you get for that these days? Get it here.

Light Relief. Episode One.

June 24, 2016

So here’s an experiment. This is the first of a series of posts containing some writing a did a while back about my experiences in various relief and development situations. Some of the details have been changed to protect organizations or individuals, and events have sometimes been moved around for dramatic or comic effect, but I can assure you that all this happened, more or less.😉

This is just a very small slice of the range of situations out there, but I hope it might give some colour to descriptions of what some jobs in this business are like.

—-

It’s the winter of 1999 in Kosovo, and I’m at the non-food warehouse of a large international NGO that I won’t name. I’m arguing with our fleet manager about how much water there is in the diesel fuel, and how the bitter temperatures are causing it to freeze in the fuel filters of the Land Rovers.

There’s a fuel shortage in the province, and we truck in all of our diesel from Macedonia, storing it in a tank in the warehouse car park. The problem is that the suppliers keep cutting it with all kinds of crap. This means that every couple of days the fuel filters in the cars need cleaning out, or else they turn into a solid block of ice, sometimes leaving our teams stranded in the middle of nowhere.

A humanitarian aid convoy in Kosovo, Winter 1999. Note the snow on the ground, and the armored Jeep convoy escort.

A humanitarian aid convoy in Kosovo, Winter 1999. Note the snow on the ground, and the armored Jeep convoy escort.

The fleet manager is explaining that he’s doing his best to persuade the vendors to steal from us in less inconvenient ways when I get a call on the radio.
One One Mike, this is One Two Foxtrot.
Foxtrot – send.
Mike – I have Zero One Kilo on the phone, she has someone from HQ who is wanting to know why there is a report in the New York Times that says we are distributing cigarettes to refugees, over.” Kilo is the call sign of the Mission Director for our organization. She’s kind of a big deal.

Tell Kilo we don’t distribute cigarettes – tell her they cause cancer, over.
OK Mike, but give me something, is there any way a reporter might have gotten the idea that we are distributing cigarettes over?
I pause for a burst of static on the radio. “I don’t think so. Can I get back to you Foxtrot? I’ll look into it, over.
Sure thing, see you shortly, out.

We don’t distribute cigarettes. I’m pretty sure of it, but I want to check with one of the other project managers before I talk to the Mission Director. I leave my argument about fuel, walk inside and, with a terrible sinking feeling of realization, pull my radio from its belt clip and push the talk button.
Nine Lima, Nine Lima, One One Mike.
A couple of seconds later there is a burst of static. “Charlie One One Mike, this is Charlie Nine Lima, send your message, over.
Lima, are you at the warehouse? Over.
Affirmative Charlie One One Mike, over.
I’ll come right up.

Can I see the distribution schedule for the Lucky Ducks?” One of this guy’s responsibilities is to oversee a bunch of special distributions, mostly Serb enclaves that don’t have any market access or income. These are nearly all groups of elderly and sick that are sheltering in a ramshackle collection of buildings including an Orthodox Church, a seminary and a monastery.

All of them are guarded 24 hours per day by NATO soldiers who protect them from being burned out out Kosovo Albanians. He christened them the ‘Lucky Ducks’ because, while most people get the standard World Food Program ration of rice, flour, oil and beans, they get a comprehensive assistance package in recognition of the fact that it’s not safe for them to leave their collective centers to buy anything, and they don’t have any money even if they could. We’re providing them absolutely everything. They quickly got re-christened the ‘Sitting Ducks’ by the rest of the team, for all the same reasons.

Yep – here it is”. He hands me the paper, and I sit down to read it. Sure enough, it’s a ‘comprehensive food and non-food package’. This month’s distribution includes flour, rice, beans, vegetables, oil, tinned meat, tinned fish, soap, toothpaste, and sanitary towels. And cigarettes.

Shit.

‘Comprehensive food and non-food package’. In the Balkans. Of course it includes cigarettes. I asked him to put together a package of everything the Sitting Ducks would need, and he did.

I push the talk button on my radio again – “Foxtrot, Mike”. There’s a crackle, and then “Mike, Foxtrot?
Foxtrot, there are some issues, I don’t think Kilo is going to be very happy.
Mike, Kilo is with me – she’s going to need to see you about it re damage control over.
Understood Foxtrot, I’ll be over in an hour. Out.

Shit.


If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my Kindle eBook, which contains much of the content from this site, thoughtfully formatted for off-line reading on a Kindle, iPad, laptop, or other e-reader. It’s $7.99, and honestly, what can you get for that these days? Get it here.

Volunteer in a refugee camp for a few days?

June 24, 2016

Q. Hello there!

I am delighted with your blog! Awesome work!!! Congrats. I am having trouble to find an answer and maybe you can help me. I would like to volunteer some days in October in a refugee camp but I am having trouble finding an ngo that takes volunteers for some days. Most of them only take donations. And the only one I found is charging a lot of money for me to go there. Do you know any ngos that I could get in touch with? Thanks!!!

Antonella

A. Hi Antonella,

First off, thanks for the kind words about the blog! Please do consider buying my ebook on Amazon – it’s a great way to help offset the costs of running the site.

Secondly – I want to salute your good intentions – its a noble thing to want to help, so please don’t take what I have to say about this personally!

OK – third – let’s get down to the question. You want to volunteer for a couple of days in a refugee camp, but can’t find an organization that will take you. The fact is that no one wants volunteers in camps for several reasons.

a) There is plenty of labor, skilled and unskilled in refugee camps. There’s no shortage of people to do the work that needs to be done to keep things moving along, and no reason to bring people in for a few days to help out. Even highly skilled staff like engineers and medical staff aren’t wanted for a few days at a time. By the time they get oriented and understand the situation it’s time to leave.

b) Refugee camps are not always safe or comfortable places to be. People are usually pretty unhappy to be there, and at a low point in their lives. They’re often not particularly satisfied with the level of assistance they are receiving, and it’s easy to become a lightening rod for that dissatisfaction if you don’t know what you’re doing. Having people come in for a few days at a time would be a major liability for an organization.

c) There are some groups that charge money for what are essentially tourist trips. This can be an enriching experience for everyone if it’s done right, but it can be a disaster. I would be very careful of any group offering this.

So – sorry to be a downer, but there just aren’t opportunities to go help out in this way. If you want to help, money is a great way to do it, and I would suggest that there are a lot of ways to get involved practically closer to home. Homeless shelters, food banks, Big Brothers / Big Sisters etc all need practical help.

Good luck!

Nick


If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my Kindle eBook, which contains much of the content from this site, thoughtfully formatted for off-line reading on a Kindle, iPad, laptop, or other e-reader. It’s $7.99, and honestly, what can you get for that these days? Get it here.

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