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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.

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Cameras for aid workers and Peace Corps (update)

July 15, 2018

Olympus TG-4So a while ago I recommended the Olympus TG4 as my pick for a rugged, pretty good quality, waterproof camera that you can keep in your pocket and that doesn’t draw attention like a DSLR. I was conflicted about it, because the camera definitely had its drawbacks, but it seemed the best of the toughened compact cameras.

Well, last week I killed it (not in a good way). After using it on a whitewater rafting trip, it was still in my life jacket front pocket – I tossed the jacket onto the ground with a  bunch of other wet boating gear, and later found I had managed to smash the front element that protects the lens. So much for being shock proof to 7 foot drops!

I was pretty upset to have thousands of very sharp pieces of glass in my life jacket pocket, and annoyed at the camera failing me, but also kind of excited to look at a replacement! Well, after doing my own research, and asking in a couple of forums, I did what I thought I wasn’t going to do, and bought another Olympus!

Having used it for a week, I can tell you that the Olympus TG5 is the camera that I wanted the TG4 to be! I’m glad I got over my anger about the TG4, because Olympus has fixed nearly everything that irritated me about it:

  • It no longer spontaneously changes shooting mode if you put it in your pocket switched on – which is awesome! The new selector dial on the top makes changing settings a lot easier and less random.
  • It now shoots burst mode in RAW – if you don’t know what that is or why you might want to that’s ok, but for people coming from DSLRs it’s nice! Likewise you can focus stack in camera in the very fun super macro mode, and it has a pro-capture mode which completely eliminates shutter lag.
  • It now shoots 4k video.
  • Olympus has switched to micro USB for their charging / sync cable, rather than the infuriating proprietary USB connector they used to use. Thank you.
  • They have dropped the res from 16 to 12mp, keeping the same sensor size, which means better low-light performance.
  • I got the optional lens adaptor that gives a lens cap. It irritates me that this is an optional extra!

OK, so, the downsides – battery life shooting 4k is mediocre, the lens will not win any sharpness awards even at its widest, and zoomed in it is noticeably soft even in the center, pretty fluffy on the edges. RAW files look soft – and make you realize how aggressively the camera applies sharpening to its JPEGS. But, these are all things that if this type of camera at this price point are par for the course.

I still miss my Nikon when I’m using it, but I can’t fit my D700 in my life jacket pocket, and the best camera is the one you have with you! I no longer have much confidence in the toughness of this one, and if you don’t need the waterproofing there are better options, but I recommend this to anyone who needs a small waterproof compact.

Mental health and aid work?

June 29, 2018

Hi Nick,

I read your blog and need your help with some career advice:

I am interested to work in the humanitarian field but mainly have experience providing education and community services in a stable environment. I am now going on 37 and am thinking of taking up a related Master’s programme to break into the humanitarian field.

The thing is that now I am diagnosed with early schizophrenia. Considering my experiences, age and medical history, I am concerned that even with the Master’s, I may not get a job in the sector.

Greatly appreciate your advice,

Thank you.

Regards
SJ

Dear SJ,

Thanks for your question. There are a couple of things in there, and I will deal with them one by one.

I don’t think being 37 is a big deal. The reason that aid workers in field jobs skew younger is largely self-selection. If agencies could get people with more experience and judgement under their belt they would. One of the best emergency finance officers I ever worked with was 76 at the time. I wouldn’t worry about that.

Health issues. So – my experience is largely with US and EU based organizations, which have similar approaches to this question, but it is possible that this varies by country, so check specifics since you don’t mention where you live. In general, agencies look at whether the person they are hiring can do the job in question. In the US it is illegal for them to discriminate based on medical condition unless the medical condition prevents the person from being able to do the job. If your health condition is controlled by medication or whatever other means, and is not going to prevent you from being able to conduct the duties, I would say don’t worry about it. I’ve worked with colleagues with serious heart conditions, people who are confined to wheelchairs, and folks with other serious by managed health conditions. For most people it’s not a big deal.

That said – you should examine whether you think your condition is compatible with a particular posting. What do you need? Regular access to psychiatric care? A regular supply of medication? Whatever it is – just check that it is available in the location you’re looking at, and make sure you continue to manage your health.

The Master’s degree won’t hurt for sure, but the thing that worries me about your question is your lack of field experience – that’s the potential deal breaker for an employer that you’re going to have to work on.

Good luck!

Nick

Safety and security in the field

May 30, 2018

CNN ran an interesting article highlighting a study that shows one third of US military injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan were non-combat related. Falls, motor vehicle crashes, equipment accidents, blunt objects, non-combat gunshot wounds, and sports injuries were the most significant categories.

It’s a pattern we see in the aid world too. While deliberate violence against aid workers is on the rise in some areas, and we need to take that seriously, a huge part of the equation is old fashioned safety, with car crashes one of the biggest risks for aid workers.

See also:

Staying safe part one and;

Staying safe part two.

‘Shithole’ countries and humanitarian aid workers

April 19, 2018
tags:

Of course, Trump’s comments on ‘shithole’ countries are, indeed, a new low.

That said, the incident made me think a little about how we talk about the places where we work, and whether we always live up to the values we aspire to in this respect. Anyone who has hung out with aid workers for any length of time will have heard ‘so-there-I-was’ stories. These are used either to emphasize the implicit hierarchy of people based on how long they have spent in very tough places, or simply to entertain, and they have a pretty predictable formula, either:

  1. Straightforward accounts about how tough the place where the person was posted was (e.g. ‘of course, that was back in 1999, when security was really bad’, or ‘this was up-country, not in the capital where you could still get a cold beer’), or:
  2. An anecdote, the punchline to which has something to do with how bad the food was or how corrupt the local government was.

The aid world is rife with the same kind of gallows humor that medical professionals, police, and social workers are often guilty of, and it comes from the same place. It permeates our culture and our language. It diffuses tension and is a way for people under stress to let off steam. But when it’s overheard by outsiders, particularly by the people who live in the places we work in and talk about, it can be deeply offensive.

Our fundraising language is also infused with the idea that these are not great places – a major agency recently adjusted their language to talk about working “on the world’s toughest problems” rather than in “the world’s toughest places”. Of course, it’s naive to pretend that Syria or South Sudan are not some of the world’s ‘toughest places’, but it’s important to remember not to let descriptions of conditions spill over into disrespect for people’s homes and histories.

Guidelines for doctors visiting developing countries

April 9, 2018

So the American College of Physicians put out a position paper in March 2018 entitled “Ethical Obligations Regarding Short-Term Global Health Clinical Experiences: An American College of Physicians Position Paper” aimed at ‘informing ethical decision making surrounding participation in short-term global health clinical care experiences.” It’s an interesting read, and I think even non physicians should consider taking a look at the issues it raises.

It’s also stoked controversy because, apparently, when putting together their guidelines for working in developing countries no people from developing countries were consulted.

Oops. Yes, and it’s not that unusual. We all need to remember when we write about countries or people without their involvement we both disrespect them, and also exclude the hugely valuable perspective they offer. This NPR article has the story.

Which websites post aid jobs?

April 4, 2018

I thought you would never ask! Here’s a good list to get started! I would definitely also use the agency websites themselves as well (like this one, and this one), since some things don’t get cross-posted.

Good luck!

Nick

Graphic design in humanitarian aid

April 4, 2018

mercy_corps_01The aid industry employs all of the same jobs as the rest of the world, as I was reminded the other day when I stumbled across this blog post from a graphic designer who worked on Mercy ways in which the visual identity has been deployed outside the strict brand guidelines that marketing folks usually want to see, he sounds like he made his peace with the way in which the realities of remote field locations insist on improvisation and adaptation!

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 11.21.10 AMThis is one of the rebrands that I actually like (three generations of Mercy Corps’ logo – top is the oldest one, very relief focussed, with a problematic cross front and center).

There have been a bunch in the last decade, some that I like, and some that I’m really not excited about. In no particular order, here is CRS’s before and after:

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 11.32.20 AM

 

I’m actually more into the old one, partly because of its simplicity of the old one, and the fact that the new one uses the acronym and the name (which seems redundent), but a little bit because the ambiguous shape on the left side – that’s a motif we’ll start to see a lot…

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 11.48.09 AM

Here’s CARE – their old (blue) logo above, the new one below. I don’t know, I really liked the gritty simplicity of the stenciled logo. I get how the visual of lots of different hands appeals, but it doesn’t do it for me…

IRC thankfully seems to have gone the other way, trading their pretty horrible old flame/foot logo for a graphically simple and positive one:Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 1.23.25 PMI only wish they had kept the acronym – it’s much more recognizable at a distance.

Oxfam on the other hand are going in the other direction. Here is their original ‘Oxford Committee for Famine Relief’ logo, a bad rendering (which was all I could find – they seem to have scrubbed it pretty effectively from the internet!) of their old logo, and their newest ‘toilet seat’ logo (once you see it you can’t stop seeing it… ;(Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 1.32.46 PM

Anyway, I got a little sidetracked here, but what I was trying to say is, the aid world needs graphic designers… 😉

 

 

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