Aid workers as authors? We ask an Evil Genius named J.

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Source: Typewriter or wallpaper?

“If actors can be aid workers, then aid workers can be authors.” Scrawled across the top of his Evil Genius Publishing website, this message describes two aspects in the life of J (his pseudonym). Humanitarian aid worker and prolific blogger – his sites include Tales from the Hood, AidSpeak, and being “half-owner of the über-awesome Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like” – J has also written aid worker fiction. His novels include Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance; Honor Among Thieves; Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit; and for the sci-fi lovers, Human. Then there’s his one (so far) work of non-fiction, Letters Left Unsent

As someone who struggles to write a blog post every few months while still working in the aid industry (Missing in the Mission started during a break!), it is pretty amazing to meet a person who has started three blogs, a self-publishing company (only one employee – himself – but still…), and written five books—all while keeping his day job. Thus, I asked J a few questions and he, of course, found the time to reply.

* * * * *

Missing in the Mission: You mention having a personal life as a writer as “cathartic” alongside decades of responding to large-scale disasters… were you a writer or an aid worker first? Or did they grow together, each feeding and sustaining the other? 

J: I guess you could say they grew together, although I was an aid worker / career humanitarian for many years before I began to consider myself a writer. Not too long ago I reconnected with an old roommate who recalled that even back when we were undergrads I always seemed to write with ease. It’s funny – I don’t remember writing anything in college. Certainly nothing creative or “for fun.”

Since becoming an aid worker, writing of some kind has been a consistent task in every job I’ve held. The usual reports, briefs, advocacy materials. One of the longest jobs I’ve ever had, very early in my career, was over a four year period where my primary responsibility was to write USAID and PRM grants. I was so glad when I finally left that job, I vowed never to accept another position where grant acquisition was the main focus. But in retrospect, all those Child Survival and Food Security proposals were fantastic practice for eventually writing humanitarian fiction!

In all seriousness, though, despite the fact that after four years I was sick of proposals and ready to move on, that job was excellent training for an adult life of moonlighting as a writer. The discipline of turning rambling thoughts into coherent text on a screen; the mechanics of working with large and complex documents; the value of a robust editorial and review process, and as part of that the thick skin that comes with having your Continue reading

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Follow the light

By Megan Nobert

Megan Nobert is a Canadian-born lawyer and humanitarian aid worker. She is currently the Founder and Director of Report the Abuse, the first global NGO created to address sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers.

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Source: Pixabay.com, Creative Commons CC0

Expectations are a strange, terrifying and exhilarating thing.

Two years ago, broken, damaged and in tears, I made the decision to speak publicly about my experience with sexual violence while working in South Sudan. There is a distinct chance that I was not quite prepared to speak publicly, barely grappling with the experience myself and having just told my family about the rape. Perhaps I would never have been prepared for the changes that this decision would bring.

Speaking to the media exposed me in a number of ways. It has meant that every time I walk into a room now, there is a significant chance that someone knows the details of the most intimate moment in my life. It means that dating is now a minefield. And it means that on any given day – at any meeting, party or event – another humanitarian will pull me to the side to tell me about their own experience with sexual violence. Hundreds of  Continue reading

Humanitarian book review: Wild Zen

This post is written by Gemma Houldey and originally appeared on her blog, Life in Crisis, where she shares research and reflections on stress and burnout in aid work. Gemma is an an aid worker, researcher, writer, human rights defender, yogi, conscious explorer, and activist. Follow her on Twitter @AidSoulSearch. 

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Carl Jung (1875-1961). Source: brewminate.com

I recently finished reading the book Wild Zen: An Inner Roadmap to Humanity by Claire Higgins, which charts the experiences of humanitarian workers, including herself, and others who have undergone – and been transformed by – trauma, violence and other forms of extreme suffering.

Claire worked for more than ten years on humanitarian and human rights programmes, and now works as an executive coach. She has tested and trained in many different therapeutic methods as a means to healing herself as well as others; and Carl Jung’s twelve archetypes, which are the guideposts for this book, is one such method. In the book we learn about archetypes such as the Caregiver, the Explorer (also known as the Adventurer or Seeker), the Warrior (also known as the Hero) and the Sage through the eyes of some of the people Clare meets. These include a humanitarian worker who was shot in Chechnya, a bowel cancer survivor, a former political prisoner and several Continue reading

Between Two Worlds

This post is written by Jennifer L. Robinson. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @thepenofjen.

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The author with her brother somewhere on the road. Credit: Jennifer Robinson

When I left Iraq in the spring of 2016 after two full years responding to the Syrian refugee crisis and later to the overwhelming wave of internally displaced people from Mosul, I felt certain that I was done for a while. I knew I wanted a break and could commit to taking one. During that break I would learn to quiet myself, find my center, and focus on a season of creativity. When I said goodbye to my colleagues, I didn’t plan on seeing any of them for at least a year.

My dad picked me up from the airport in San Diego in a new (used) Mercedes, which we filled with the smell of fast food tacos. On the ride home, we chatted about my flight and the weather in Erbil, his work and latest golf scores. My dad was giving me the space to talk if I wanted; I was waiting for a question. After a few minutes we both decided to Continue reading

Exhale on 2016.

Exhale.  We made it.  We’re in 2017.  The churning jowls of last year didn’t devour all of us, even if they ground our souls to gristle.

Why did 2016 feel so existentially threatening?  For those of us involved in international affairs, especially humanitarianism, the broad political trends were hard not to take personally.  Brexit was a stunning reminder—a wake-up call?—that growing global cooperation is by no means a given; many components of the Leave Campaign demonstrated the power of xenophobic falsehoods, fear-fueled hatreds that then reared their ugly heads time and time again throughout the Republican campaign for the American presidency.  As these efforts and others, like the “no” vote for Colombian peace, drew to their nasty, lamentable ends, we became increasingly distrustful of those around us: are my neighbors closet xenophobes?  Are my friends secretly racist?  What do my family members really think?  The gap between public polls and private voting booths left us wondering if civility had crumbled behind closed doors.  The loss of trust was one of 2016’s greatest casualties.

As humanitarian aid and international development workers, we were right to take far-right political campaigns personally: they targeted our livelihoods, which reflect core sets Continue reading

Writing to Save Our Lives

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Is anyone reading me?  Source: http://static.guim.co.uk

Writing is a matter of life and death.  I sincerely believe that.  If you do not, consider what it meant for a person’s name to be written—or not—on Schindler’s list.  If writing were not so grave, governments would not target journalists with such chilling zeal.  Words are power, and we face a moral obligation to harness them with as much heart and conscience as we can.

As crucial as I know the act of writing to be—a godsend for humanitarians and, we hope, a salve for readers—I marvel and sometimes despair at how much we are writing about so little.  My natural inclination should be to support the proliferation of the written word.  But when The Guardian published a “call to arms” last month, calling for an end to the “report writing madness,” I raised the pitchfork.  We are writing into the void.  When I Continue reading