“I work with humanitarian aid and international development, and I became interested in this area very early in my life – an interest not forced upon me by the experience of war or displacement but one that came somewhat innately. Even in adolescence, my favorite books and movies were about the great civil rights movements, about humanity’s underdogs, and about those valorous individuals who stood up. I had an emotional reaction to such stories, goosebumps and tears, and somehow, I just knew deep down that this must be it. Not just for me, personally, but for humans, generally.
I went to study philosophy at the university, studying thousands of years of thinking—from Socrates and Saint Augustine, to Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Arendt, and so on—people who did almost nothing else but think about the purpose of human life. That youthful, naïve feeling of mine – that people are meant to care for one another to eliminate misery and preserve human dignity, to live, yes, but perhaps especially to let live. So, my decision to work in this sector, and hence for DRC as well, was simultaneously heartfelt and intellectual.
Keep the rock rolling
I have been managing humanitarian projects during COVID-19 in an active conflict zone – a challenge by any measure. I like challenging, though. Yes, this job is incredibly stressful, the hours and the conditions in which we work are insane, and on most days bitter disappointment will outweigh any positive outcomes. But there is an undeniable appeal to this as well, an almost addictive one, and certainly one that goes beyond any altruism that might have brought us here in the first place.
At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think us humanitarians do our job, not in spite of, but especially because it is challenging. My former boss used to say, “Even when there is no crisis, humanitarians invent crises.”
We do this, I venture to say, because part of our self-worth is tied to the fact that we can handle challenging circumstances. It is a bit like Camus’s interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus who keeps rolling that big rock up the hill, time and time again. But on his way down, he has a moment to contemplate, and, in that moment, he is reminded that he himself choose this destiny, free willed. Despite the enormous challenge that he will once again face at the bottom, Sisyphus therefore cannot but smile.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to describe my job as a vocation. This means that the line between labor and leisure is very blurred, almost non-existent. I can say that I like reading, and yet all the reading I do is somehow work-related. I likewise enjoy writing articles about my work. I exercise because it keeps me sharp – at work. You see my point?
If I could tell one story…
There is this Slovenian guy who – when he was 24 years old – moved to Sudan and began helping one of the tribes there, the Nuba people. He went there alone and while he has found support in Slovenia and elsewhere over the years, he remains there alone. He is not part of any organisation; in fact, I am sure he despises international humanitarian organisations. By now, he has spent over 40 years there and I am confident that he will stay there until the very end. I do not think he made a penny in his life that he did not immediately give to the Nubas.
In many ways, he is the epitome of a humanitarian. Yet, he was imprisoned numerous times, has been near death even more often, lost his family on the way, and is a dreadful cynic. I often think about him when I reflect on the good and bad parts of my life as a humanitarian.
Amat is 27 years old. She is one of the few female representatives in her field as a Site Management and Coordination (SMC) team leader for the DRC in Yemen. Her story is about facing challenges as a woman in the field.
Juma Gul's story is about finding himself as a stranger in his homeland of Afghanistan after returning from Pakistan after nearly 30 years of displacement. Despite tough times, he reconnected with his homeland.
26-year-old Shabana is proud to be Afghan and wants people to know that being Afghan is to be brave, and that they haven’t only experienced dark days.