So You Want to be an Aid Worker?
You might have an appetite to become an aid worker, but do you have the stomach for it?
This was the question an aid-worker friend posed to me a couple of months ago in Haiti.
It made me stop and think.
I teach people about patience in community development, but if I am honest, my first impulse is to come up with a brilliant solution. I know lots of ways to fix the problem, and I have a fight to stifle these words from leaving my mouth
“Have you ever thought about …?”
I became an Aid worker, out of a dream to travel and save the world. I wanted to be the solution to the biggest problems on the planet. I saw people inspire their friends to fill a container with shoes for kids who have none. Others pay for prostitutes to give them a night away from their pimp. I heard of groups stepping between men with guns and their victims!
Inspiring stuff. Who wouldn’t want to be a part!?!
Then I joined the ranks of aid workers and saw the other side of the story. Real aid work is waaaay different than the images on CNN.
Case in point: I brought a friend of mine to Haiti on my last trip and as we sat in the middle of a 4 hour community meeting I turned to him and suggested he should take a picture. He obliged. It is one of the most boring pictures I have. After the cameras are gone, the real job of an aid worker happens during committees and meetings.
Your Dream of Helping is not a Strong Resume
This is what I know. Many people believe they want to become an aid worker, but when confronted by the actual low-key ways that the best aid agencies work, they quickly lose interest. This is why.
What these people really wanted was to be the hero in the story.
I remember a volunteer from a few years ago. She talked all about sustainability and a desire to help the community, but when she actually arrived into the project she kept sneaking out to do her own thing.
She did a lot of ‘helping’
She avoided her host. She hid the stuff she brought and distributed it to her local friends. She took lots of selfies of her distributions and posted them to Facebook. She ignored any questions about what she was doing.
Eventually her host had to ask her to leave! It was brutal. Anger. Threats of legal action.
Lots. Of. Drama.
The problem was that she wanted to be the hero in the story, and heroes need to find a victim. Guess who that always turns out to be?
Not her, nor anyone who looked like her
The Aid Worker is Not the Hero
Successful Aid Workers eventually realize that they are not the hero. They are the supporting cast. The extras in the background. The sidekick, which is kind of deflating
Now here is the kicker. Do this long enough, and you will get to see real change in a community. You still don’t get to be the hero, but you see real change. Not hyped media change. You see kids whose parents give them shoes. You see prostitutes get better jobs and fix the holes in the roof. And you see men with guns defeated by men without guns.
But it won’t happen unless you develop the stomach for it …
What does a hero need?