Traveling permanently is the choice we made when we became digital nomads. This way of life attracts and some seek to go on humanitarian missions to make themselves useful and quench their thirst for adventure.
As many people are doing research on this subject, I proposed to our friend Clément* who works in the humanitarian field to answer some questions
If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask them as a comment, I will pass them on to him so that he can shed some light.
Hello Clément, can you introduce yourself in a few words (age, background, education, …)?
Hello Jean-Benoît. Once my baccalaureate in my pocket, I chose a DUT GEA (Gestion des Entreprises et des Administrations), which allowed me to receive a generalist and not too long training: ideal for further studies
Then, I took the time to learn about specialized humanitarian training, and I joined the university to do a Master’s degree in Development and Humanitarian Aid
After graduation, I chose to specialize in emergency humanitarian aid and went to work in many countries in crisis.
What organizations have you worked for?
I have worked for several French NGOs known to the general public, Action Contre la Faim for example
These NGOs mainly work in crisis contexts to provide emergency aid to populations that are victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters
The help provided can be of different kinds: distribution of food and water, construction of shelters, psychological support etc.
What is your job? What is your typical day?
I am Field Coordinator. The Field Coordinator works under the responsibility of the Country Director. It is his responsibility to define, in a defined area, the intervention strategy according to the geopolitical and humanitarian context and to ensure its implementation. He/she mobilizes the material and financial resources necessary for the proper conduct of the programs and supervises their management. It coordinates the teams in place and is the guarantor of their security
The typical day often begins with a quick analysis of the security situation in the area concerned before validating or prohibiting the movement of teams in the field
I then take the time to process my emails before leaving for external meetings, the work of representation with other actors being very important (NGOs and United Nations, local authorities, populations etc)
In the afternoon, I deal with substantive issues (writing strategies, procedures, analyses…)
Finally, and particularly in areas of high instability, I end the day with a debriefing with the teams
This job is exciting and very demanding. It requires a strong resistance to stress and pressure, as well as being comfortable with responsibilities and decision-making.
What are the main professions sought for humanitarian missions?
NGOs are looking for different profiles, both technical and generalist, which are divided into two main categories of jobs: the so-called “program” jobs and the so-called “support” jobs
The “program” professions will directly implement the activities: doctors, nurses, psychologists, agricultural engineers, water and sanitation experts, food security experts, etc
The “support” professions will work in support of the “program” professions: logistician, finance and human resources managers, communication and advocacy experts, etc
There is no job more important than any other, all are essential to the smooth running of missions.
In how many countries have you lived in recent years, which ones?
I had the opportunity to work on two continents: Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Sudan) and the Middle East (Syria).
Did you have time to “enjoy” and visit the country outside of work?
When working in contexts of crisis and armed conflict, insecurity is an integral part of daily life. Expatriates must respect very strict rules, particularly in terms of movement restrictions and curfews
In addition, the working days are often very intense, it is common to work six days a week and until late at night: therefore we generally have neither the possibility nor the time to go sightseeing.
What do you think of organizations that offer volunteers paid trips to go on humanitarian missions for a few weeks or months?
This is a sensitive and complex subject, because the origin of these departures abroad is often found in young people willing to get involved, full of good will
However, it is important to know that under the cover of solidarity, these organizations are companies and their primary purpose is to make money, and their profits are constantly increasing
Moreover, when you are serious, you have to take a step back and ask yourself about its real impact: young, often with no professional experience, and over a very short period of time, what do you really bring to the table? Not much
Finally, why do tourism while feeling invested in a mission, we should not mix everything. Motivation and good humour aren’t enough, humanitarian work is a profession.
Some travelers take advantage of their passage in certain countries to go to a school and propose to offer some English courses for example. What do you think of this approach?
Give a few hours of English lessons if you are invited to do so. However, it isn’t useless to question your own level of English, as well as your ability to lead a class, being a teacher isn’t something you can improvise
We must also be lucid, these courses will not be taken over the long term and will have almost no impact… when it isn’t negative
Indeed, these interventions are often at odds with the methods used by local staff, and students are confused
Also be careful with the gait, you should not come to flatter your ego and make selfies for Instagram. What would you think if Chinese tourists came to give English lessons and take selfies with your children?
Is it possible today to go on a humanitarian mission with an NGO without specific training?
This is possible, provided that you can prove that you have one or more professional experiences in one of the professions sought by the NGOs.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to convert to the humanitarian world?
Take the time to get informed: visit the websites of NGOs, attend the various humanitarian trade shows and open days
This step is essential to confront your expectations with the reality of the job and avoid disillusionment. Humanitarian work is a demanding and demanding profession, not accessible to everyone
* Due to anonymity issues related to his professional activity, the first name has been changed.