Impossible Decisions

This post is by Adam Tousley, who currently works for an INGO in northern Iraq.

Buddhist protests_crop

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

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Policy, practice, and poetry

This post is written by Jennifer Lentfer. Jennifer is the creator of the blog how-matters.org and Director of Communications at Thousand Currents. This week, she joins 21 other diverse speakers at Healing Solidarity, a free online conference posing critical questions about healing, inequity, exhaustion, and challenging power structures in international aid and development. Join the conversation at healingsolidarity.org and follow #HealingSolidarity.

Practice-Solidarity

People are waking up to big issues in international aid. Now what?  Image from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) #PracticeSolidarity campaign 

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A journalist recently asked me, “Do you know anyone who would be willing to go on the record as resistant to change?”

“Good luck,” I thought. Institutional bodies are adept at portraying its leaders as on trend and non-controversial, and no self-respecting do-gooder is going to oppose more racial and gender diversity outright at this time in our history. However I constantly encounter “good people” who may or may not be aware of the white privilege and supremacy that runs through aid institutions, or who haven’t developed the personal resiliency to talk openly about the historical origins of our sector and the political and identity-driven realities that affect every aspect of our day-to-day work.

Policies that support diversity and inclusion are in place. What we now have to shift is the practice. For people with positional power and for those with privilege, this may  Continue reading

Writing stories otherwise untold

This post is the first in a two-part series by Trayle Kulshan. Trayle recently finished her memoir, “Revolutions”: 99 lyrical, 99-word stories from her travels as an aid worker. You can find it on Amazon and read samples on her website

Optical_illusion_disc_with_birds,_butterflies,_and_a_man_jumping

Source: “McLean’s optical illusions.” T. McLean. 1833. 1 portfolio: 11 lithographs on discs, hand-colored, discs are to be spun on a spindle, and observed in a mirror, to create the illusion of a moving image, 25 x 25 cm. As seen on the cover of “Revolutions”. Animated GIFs from Wikimedia users Trialsanderrors & Racconish. 

Just before their eyes glaze over. That’s the point when someone usually tosses out the well-worn phrase, “Oh, you’ve been to so many interesting places, you should write a book.”

So, I did.

Indeed, like most aid workers I have enjoyed working in “many interesting places”: Guinea, DRC, Kenya, Afghanistan, Egypt. I was a WASH specialist for more than 10 years, during which I met my Syrian husband who introduced me to the Middle East, and—after many exciting exploits together—parenthood. We had a baby and settled in Dubai, where he took a good HQ-type job. So here I was, being a full-time mommy, missing the action-packed field I figured it was time to write the book.

But a funny thing happened… it ended up not really being about aid work adventures at all. It ended up being about me. It ended up being about gaining perspective, and about Continue reading

Two weeks

This week’s post is written by J, a humanitarian aid worker, novelist and prolific blogger whose sites include Tales from the Hood, AidSpeak, and co-creating Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. To stay up-to-date with J’s aid-related writing, commentary, and fiction, check out his Evil Genius websitefacebook and twitter pages. 

empty-desk

Source: Waters True Value wants you to know how to organize your desk

Two weeks. That’s how long it takes, on average, for the so-called high performing and indispensable aid worker to be forgotten. You know, the one who knew the local language and culture so well they were “practically local”? Or the one who threw the fabulous parties, or the one who always knew who in the host government to ask for what. Or maybe it was the one who—by sheer force of will or expertise—managed to accomplish what no one else had prior.

Everyone else was certain this person was irreplaceable, that the office or programme just could not go on without him or her. And you know what? Within ten working days – just two weeks – their old office or cubicle had already been reassigned, IT had reformatted their old computer, and their old position had either been refilled or their responsibilities divvied up among those left behind.

I once knew a guy who got blindsided by a downsize dressed up as a restructure. It was a shitty way for the organization to move him along, and everyone felt it. Staff were incensed and outraged in the coffee room. He’d had a long and illustrious career. He had Continue reading

Listen.

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 letterAlexia 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

Cake & commitment

It’s been a long time since our last post. So long, we considered closing our proverbial doors—with a big thanks to all of you for sharing your words, and reading and sharing the words of others.

It was at that very moment that a post first sent in February re-surfaced, after a deep-dive to the hidden corners of gmail, where it lay dormant for 9 months. The author is still eager to share it and the piece (unfortunately, given the subject) is still relevant. Online next week.

Next, a fierce woman street artist reached out to offer her artistic services to design a logo + some merchandise for Missing in the Mission. In time for the holidays, with the idea of raising money for a cause of our choice. Stay tuned.

And an experienced aid worker, on her way back from responding to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, asked if she could share Continue reading

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

Once-upon-a-time-old-vintage-typewriter

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.

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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