Before You Go

What You Should Know Before You Go…

Kabul, Afghanistan (photo credit: Guido Corno, UNEP)

Kabul, Afghanistan (photo credit: Guido Corno, UN)

What does it mean to say you're an "aid worker"? A "humanitarian worker"? A "development worker"? Just the mention of it and people's eyes light up! They are so proud and praising, automatically assuming that aid workers are doing "the right thing". Yet, most people know little about what a typical aid worker does or what being an aid worker actually entails.

Being an aid worker can be a beautiful, rewarding experience. It offers unique insight into countries, cultures and even languages that might otherwise be difficult to access. But, more significantly, it provides an opportunity to help individuals and their communities tackle global challenges - poverty, hunger, war, gender violence, climate change, and beyond. When projects implemented result in tangible progress, the job satisfaction is immeasurable.

The constant stimulation of cross-cultural transitions, challenging work environments and projects, and - in many contexts - the added stimulation of living in "emergency" mode means that aid work can also be addictive. It's tough to convince our amygdala (that part of our brain that feeds off the urge for "fight-or-flight") that we should accept a mundane desk job in a location where each day is achingly similar to the last rather than parachuting into the Amazon to defend a local tribe, sitting inside a refugee tent transcribing human rights violations that will later be used in international advocacy efforts, or delivering food to malnourished children following a natural disaster.

But, while aid work is intellectually alluring, exhilarating, exotic, and rewarding, there is a depth to aid work that is often overlooked.

The sacrifices, the frustrations with repeatedly moving and transitioning into new cultures and languages, the loss of connectedness many of us feel with our partners, families and friends, the high divorce rate, the alcoholism, even suicides, the likelihood that many of us have been directly affected by attacks, assaults, kidnappings or other traumatic situations, etc. often go unrecognized or overlooked. It is imperative to enter this line of work with a certain awareness.

Connect With Others to obtain advice as to helpful hints and important measures you should take before you head into the field.