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Security, kidnapping, and getting killed.

February 9, 2015

One of the core difficulties in getting your first job in relief and development is the question of how to get field experience. You can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without getting hired. It can be tempting to just show up somewhere where there is need and volunteer until you get hired. I want to highlight another tragic example of why I don’t think this is something you should do, at least not in active conflict areas.

In early 2015 IS released a statement saying that Kayla Muelle, an American woman they were holding hostage in Syria was killed in a Jordanian bombing raid. While the details are sparse, it appears that Kayla travelled to Aleppo in 2013 with another person who was working for an organization contracted by MSF. The two of them stayed overnight in Aleppo, and were kidnapped the next morning. The specifics of the case don’t really concern us, you can read more here, but I wanted to draw out a couple of important things to take away from this incident:

1. Foreigners in war-zones are not safe. They never have been, and they certainly are not now.

2. Kayla was apparently not employed by an aid agency at the time of her capture. No responsible agency would have sent her to Aleppo at the time, and she apparently lacked the kind of sound security analysis and advice that major international agencies provide to their staff.

3. You need to be very cautious about traveling to areas afflicted with conflict or strife. If you are volunteering on your own, or networking on the ground, make sure you stick to areas that have existing tourist infrastructure, a reputation for stability, and a regular flow of foreigners. This won’t guarantee your safety, of course, but it will make you no more likely to be targeted than regular tourists.

Let’s be careful out there,


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joshua Saunders permalink
    March 3, 2015 1:41 pm

    My name is joshua , I am 18 years old graduating this June , Ive had a lot of time to figure myself out this year and over a lot of thinking I came to the conclusion I want to help people .
    I want to help people hands on , I was very interested in Doing really any type of work at a refugee camp or something along thoughs lines , but everywhere I go to look I can’t quite figure it out . I have a lot of volunteer expirence and great people skills , I was just wondering if you had any ideas or could point me in the right direction !

    • March 3, 2015 2:21 pm

      Hi Joshua –
      As a matter of fact, I do have a few pointers on this – I have a blog at humanitarian that deals with exactly this issue! If you have a more specific question that you don’t think is answered please do let me know!

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