This post is by Adam Tousley, who currently works for an INGO in northern Iraq.
Photo provided by author; source unknown.
On 25 August 2017 in Maungdaw Town, Northern Rakhine State (NRS), Burma, I was planning to go for a run at 6:00 AM. The day before, the United Nations Department of Safety & Security, who were a three-hour boat ride away, stated that despite the heightened tension between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities there was nothing overly concerning. Instead I woke up at 3:00 AM to a large exchange of gunfire outside my INGO guest house.
There is a common nightmare for some people finding themselves naked in public places. Take it from me; waking up semi-naked in a gunfight in Burma is far worse, especially if you’re a bearded pasty white dude. Our buildings were targeted by small arms gunfire, and my organization was singled out for attack on social media (thanks Facebook). After two days in hibernation my colleagues and I were directed to evacuate.
No one can be fully prepared to lead a base through evacuation in a rapid onset emergency. For those who have, you may remember the frustration in finding a carefully developed evacuation plan was not as developed as you had envisioned (at least I hope I’m not the only one). What had been the worst-case scenario on your risk assessment yesterday was the reality today. The road you could run on yesterday is now Continue reading
Over the past few months, we’ve been listening. Deeply, actively listening. To the multitude of voices that have been silenced for far, far too long.
This International Women’s Day began with a headline from the Guardian that screamed: ‘You need to hear us’: over 1,000 female aid workers urge reform in open letter. Alexia Pepper de Caires, one of the organizers of the letter alongside Sarah Martin, Danielle Spencer and Anne Quesney, sums up their motivation succinctly: “The whole point of the letter is, ‘You need to hear us, because we’re the ones who are telling you what’s happening.'” The letter calls for “fundamental reforms to shift the patriarchal bias in aid” and is signed by over a thousand women in 81 countries.
An easy ask? No. But if anyone is up for the task, these 1,000+ women spread around the globe are. I am. If gun rights activism in the US is anything to judge by, the next generation of aid workers surely is. The women you say hello to in the hallway, or grab drinks with after work, or report to, or that report to you, the women with whom you exchange all-knowing glances at the coordination meetings, definitely are.
As we wrote in 2015:
There is solidarity here. And a growing space in which people feel empowered to speak with louder and louder voices about practices that have, up to now, been considered “part of what you signed up for.” These are the words of a friend’s boss when employees asked, three times, about staff well-being during a global all-staff meeting.
My friend’s boss is wrong. He doesn’t yet realize that we have already been carried farther down along the shore than we realized. Not only by our own small strokes in the big blue sea, but also by the undercurrent of others’ actions and testimonies, which grow stronger and wider as they join with other currents. A sea change is underway.
Yes, it’s tempting to Continue reading
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.
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
I recently had dinner with a friend who was passing through town for a few days. We worked in DR Congo together six years ago and have only seen each other once or twice since, so it was a nice surprise to hear from her. We went out for a long catch-up dinner, with wine and appetizers and a checkered tablecloth. At some point–don’t ask me how–the subject of panic rooms came up. She looked at me and said, “Yeah, and I told her the only time I’ve used one was with you, in North Kivu, when there was so much shooting and we had to lock ourselves in the panic room with the radios and sleep there all night.”
And I… had.totally.forgotten.about.that.
Of course, after a few minutes of drawing a blank and trying to look like I wasn’t drawing a blank, the memories came rushing back at me: Having to quickly move the hibernation Continue reading
This post was written by an anonymous Missing in the Mission blogger on July 30, 2016. The views expressed are those of the author and not of any aid organizations.
A maternity hospital we are supporting in Northwest Syria was bombed last Friday. I found out in a series of emails from colleagues Saturday morning, with links to gut wrenching news coverage. My Syrian colleagues confirmed the events with cell phone photos and videos sent through WhatsApp and Skype.
Health facilities being targeted in war zones with air strikes isn’t front-page news anymore. While I was supporting the Syrian team in Turkey last month, we had a team meeting on the 28th of June. The security update announced that in the month of June there had been 27 attacks on health centers in Syria so far—one a day. Attacks on health facilities are also not unique to the hell that is the war in Syria right now. Conservative reporting by the WHO found 57 attacks on health care in 17 countries during the 3 months between January 1 and March 31, 2016. Nor are the perpetrators of these health care Continue reading
This post is written by an anonymous contributor.
It is difficult to write about ending a mission while on mission. It is difficult to write about taking a break when the breaks one is able to take are too short to notice, too quick to be able to unwind. Working in isolated and dangerous locations takes a toll on a person’s body and mind. We come here to help people, but forget about taking care of ourselves.
I am guilty of this, of not making time to rest and re-energise. I think this is important, even in the midst of a demanding mission. It makes it easier for us to re-enter “normal” society after the mission is over, to meaningfully reconnect with those we love and who love us. I have been continuously working in so-called “deep field” locations for the pastseven years, with fluctuating levels of remoteness and insecurity. I count myself fortunate that only one person I care about was killed. I have had several friends kidnapped for Continue reading
My father taught us very early on to respect the sea. As young girls, my sister and I would go into the water with him on an inflatable raft and learn to “catch” waves, to ride them into the shore. If we started paddling too late, we would miss the wave entirely; too soon, and it would break on top of us and sometimes throw us off the raft. We would go tumbling along on the sand under the water, forced to hold our breath until the wave let us come up for air again (getting “rolled”, as he called it). It was scary, but exhilarating.
Our most important lesson came on calm days, when he taught us not to mistake the smooth surface of the water and absence of waves for a lack of action underneath. Even when they are barely visible on the surface, there are always currents and sometimes a strong undertow. These powerful forces can carry us very far — in a direction that we may or may not want to go. And sometimes they act stealthily, taking us a ways down the shore before we even realize that we are being redirected.
When I first took a break from aid work, I felt burnt out and alone. I started this blog in part to confront that stereotype, to respond to the many whispered conversations and questions of, “I feel like that too” and “But how did you do it?” and “Aren’t you scared you’ll never be able to go back?” I had seen a close colleague and friend, someone who I had long admired in the field, leave her job in a sudden and heartbreaking way. I supported her as best I could during her last few months at work, when she felt abandoned by the very entity that she had given so much to over the years. She eventually took the difficult and Continue reading
People are like tea bags.
You find out how strong
they are when you put
them in hot water.
This tea-bag approach to what some might call resilience reminds me of what an old boss, the head of our agency’s programs in Darfur, called the problem of the “frog in boiling water.” He said that a frog can be immersed in a pot of water, and if that pot is put on a stove and the burner turned on, the frog won’t notice the gradual increase in temperature until it is too late; until she literally boils.
The metaphor may jump out (no pun intended) for some faster than others: when working in insecure environments, this was used to explain how at first something like a carjacking may cause all aid agencies to halt operations. As the frequency of such incidents increases, they become normalized to the point where a carjacking occurs and… activities go on as planned. Perhaps the incident is a footnote at the security briefing. Conversation fodder at Continue reading