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
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.
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
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
This post is written by an anonymous Missing in the Mission blogger.
Post-truth. Fake news. Alternative facts. As I look back at my diary from early 2016, it’s striking how much my landscape has changed; pre-Brexit, pre-Trump, I could describe the world around me, I knew what I was advocating for and my words worked. There were some touchstone certainties, however painful some of them were, and a trust, and shared understanding, in the words that described them. I was writing an alternative world into being, a different vision, but I was starting from somewhere else.
‘Elite’ evidently no longer means resourced, connected, networked, privileged, advantaged. From its use in recent months, it seems ‘elite’ now means has ideas, shares ideas, thinks about things, values creativity and art. By this definition, most of the women I have worked with in humanitarian crises are elite, though the opportunities they have to act on any of their thoughts and ideas are so constrained they barely exist, and saying those thoughts out loud could easily get them killed. Events are reported as 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
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
This post is written by an anonymous contributor.
BBC Radio 4 has a magazine programme on Saturday mornings, hosted by ex-Communard and now the Reverend Richard Coles; it’s essential listening for me when I’m at home, and doubles as my backdrop to experimental cooking.
About 5 years ago, the programmed featured a slot precipitated by a listener who wanted to thank a stranger who had helped them in a moment of crisis. Since they had not even taken the person’s name, they thought they might reach them by telling the story, and saying thank you, on national radio.
Listening as I fiddled about with lavender ice-cream, I thought about such critical moments in my life; times when complete strangers offered help and kindness for no reason other than as a gift of humanity. I decided then that I would make an effort to ‘do’ a random act of kindness every day, that I would pay attention and act when I thought it would help. And so for the last 5 years, I have done this – sometimes with very small gestures and other times by doing something more significant.
For example, I was once at Paddington Station at 8.30am. It was rush hour into London, the station was packed with people, the entrance to the Tube had been closed because 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