Thirteen years ago

Peter in Uganda (1996)

Almost to the day, thirteen years ago, I stepped off a plane in Uganda to start my first posting for a UN humanitarian organisation.

Since I had quit my 'normal job', three years before, went on an Antarctic expedition, and worked for the International Red Cross (IFRC) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in several short term consultancies for two years. But this was my first full time job since three years.

I originally joined as a telecommunications specialist, but went through many different assignments with postings in Kosovo, Pakistan and Dubai before I ended up at the headquarters in Rome.

When I look back at the picture above (I certify I have not worn sandals with white socks for years!), a lot of memories come back. Mostly memories I am very fond of, and tried to reflect in my eBook.

Today, I was reminded of what it was like, thirteen years ago: I got two Emails from people describing how they have been trying to get a job in the humanitarian world. Both of them described their attempts, and up to a certain level showed doubt if 'they would ever get in'.

Somewhere, today, it was easy to put understand how these people feel. I remember how I found the humanitarian world to be locked by a huge steel door, which was almost impossible to get through. I had the right qualifications, a proven track record and experience. I was motivated, and felt a 'true humanitarian at heart'. And yet, I could not get a full time job. What was wrong with me?

I kept on sending my resume to a multitude of organisations. And resending them, and resending them. Until one day, someone replied showing at least some level of interest. After a couple of exchanges, I got interviewed - via telephone as I was on mission for the Red Cross in Ivory Coast -, and some time after that, it looked like the steel door was finally opening for me. Four months later, I stepped off that plane in Kampala.

I summarized my experience and tips for aspirant aid workers in what is now one of the most read posts on this blog. Looking at the volume of Emails I get asking for suggestions on opening that "steel door", I know how many, today, are in the position I was thirteen years ago.

Apart from the hints listed in that post, the only thing I can say is "Don't give up". Keep on trying. It took me three years to get in, but thirteen years later, I have not regretted my choice to push that door. And bang it at times. So don't give up.

More posts on The Road about aidworkers


Voegtli 06 February, 2009 05:47  

That was nice to read. And believe it or not: Almost to the day, it started 10 years ago for me. Also, a full time job after 2 years of trying to build up a consulting business.

Anonymous,  06 February, 2009 19:44  

I'm still banging on that door...

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