Working in the humanitarian sector and in emergencies is a challenge. Some people join the sector believing in change and in providing support to people in need, others take advantage of the vulnerable populations to gain personal profits. It is a continuous battle between good and evil.
I will not go through a long introduction and will step into the life lessons that I have learned while working for this sector.
- Admit your mistakes: We all make mistakes, especially under the pressure and stress of emergencies and dynamic politics around. The most important thing is to admit them, not to justify them.
- Do not trust anyone: not everyone is part of a conspiracy. There are actually decent people out there who are also reliable and trustworthy. Yet, do not trust anyone, at least at the beginning until you get a clear vision of the intentions around.
- Do not force interactions: fake attitudes are easily identified even by the analphabet populations. People might be illiterate and in need but not idiots. Fake attitudes will create repulsion and you will never be accepted.
- Respect and earn respect: respect the privacy and dignity of the people in need. Call before you visit a refugees’ camp. If they are poor and in need, it doesn’t mean that they are available for you anytime. Also remember that respect is earned, not given. You need to work closely with them, speak their language, and listen to their thoughts. If they joke about their vulnerability, do not laugh. Ask for their permission when you need to take pictures for example. Drink their coffee when they offer. When they offer you something despite their needs, it means that they value your visit and respect you.
- Do your job: Refugees and their camps are not the Mona Lisa. You are not visiting a museum where you can stare for a long time on that poor old lady washing the clothes in the cold. Observe quickly and focus on your job. If your job is to stare on that lady, ask her politely that you need to observe what she’s doing. Remember the dignity of the people. Do you like to have someone staring at your screen behind your back when you are working?
- Listen to their needs: Everybody knows that you are educated and you studied hard to work in the sector and everyone has ideas and different tastes. People in their communities have their own taste. Do not impose yours. If this is what they like, then give them what they like, not what you like. You can still guide them and provide them with other options but let them decide.
- Ask them how they are doing: sometimes, this is all what they need. Most probably, a lot of organizations have visited them and asked them about their needs. Sometimes, all what they need is someone who asks how they are doing. I remember once in an assessment for house damages right after an armed conflict, I asked a man how he and his family were doing and he answered: “I really don’t need anything. I’m just glad that you asked how my family and I are doing. We are not doing well. But I am happy and thankful that someone asked me actually how we are doing and not how my house is doing.”
- Do not take things personal: we all need guidance at some point. If I made a mistake or if I don’t know something, someone should guide me. I shouldn’t be offended if someone gave me a helping hand. If a vulnerable person/beneficiary was violent and insulted you, do not take it personal and reply. Let them release their anger. Remember that these people have been through a lot and might lose it sometimes.
- Do not give up: despite all mistakes, failures, blood, threats, corruption, violence, weaknesses, do not give up. Vulnerable people need you.
- Take moments to relax and breathe: take a break from time to time to relax and charge your energy. Trust me, the job can drain you. Take a break.