Confessions of three humanitarians

There are days we’d sacrifice our colleagues/morals/integrity to avoid trawling through BS on the Internet. But we couldn’t avoid comment on an article called “Confessions of a humanitarian” that The UK Guardian ran last week.

As three people who have been involved in different forms of development and social justice work, it’s so refreshing to see the plight of aid workers who travel too much finally get Guardian-endorsed publication! It’s been a long time — many air-miles, dare we say? — coming.

After all, this is why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds the Guardian’s Development site – to cover the burning development issues of our time. We know first hand, as the pseudonym Dara Passano articulates, that the stress of travel can really get you down. Just ask all those migrants who’ve been traveling on boats, in truck beds and on foot with nary a hot shower in sight.

Even more impressive is the article’s brilliant recitation of classic development tropes. There’s the gritty volunteer work — living by starlight, on a first-name basis with parasites and on a steady diet of iodine tablets — the gold star of ‘first-hand knowledge’ to solve hunger, forge world peace and knock a couple of goals off that ever growing list of SDGs. (We’ve all put that ‘volunteer experience’ on our CVs and ended up at NGOs, landing jobs with much longer and fancier-sounding titles. There’s no shame in that, Dara – we’ve got to give our colonies of parasites something to feed on and we need some poignant photos for our Tinder profiles.)

Transitioning from volunteering — all the good intentions and zeal to change the world — to NGO bureaucracy can be very difficult indeed. Dearest Dara, between the queuing in Economy, and the crumpled clothes and disheveled hair resulting from gallivanting around the world to make things better for ‘The People’, it’s understandable you’re feeling a bit down. Tossing around all that privilege can make anyone question their commitment to and understanding of social justice (or whatever got you into this dirty business in the first place).

It’s no wonder you went from side-eyeing the UN for abusing its privilege and wasting financial resources on business class flights, and then secretly coveting becoming part of the UN. This must be what one calls getting corrupted by the system. If only our budget lines allowed ‘Nespresso machines’, as you recommend, we’d never end up with an ineffective tangle of aid actors and such burn out among humanitarian workers.

But back to your original problem – needing UN employment — allow us to offer a little advice. The next time you’re about to throw yourself at the feet of another buff and perfectly manicured UN employee with your CV, remember, those applications are all online now. We can guarantee that there’s no free Wi-Fi in the economy boarding area, and some first-class traveller is about to press submit whilst sipping on a lungo macchiato and having a foot massage. Yes, Dear Dara — the vicious cycle keeping you from your dreams is more perpetuating than the poverty of even the poorest village.

Caitlin Chandler, Rishita Nandagiri, and David Lawrence

Caitlin Chandler, Rishita Nandagiri, and David Lawrence are three humanitarians.

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