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 Five Tips to Start Your Humanitarian Career

Sometimes travelling around and seeing the world is not enough. Sometimes your conscience will not let you ignore what you see with your own eyes. Sometimes you just know you need to do “something” when you are faced with the stark realities you encounter.

For some of us, a solution can be to get involved with fundraising activities back home or to do volunteer work locally. But some have a serious urge to work with humanitarian issues as a full-time career – also abroad.

It takes a specific type of person to become a professional humanitarian. If you dream about “making that famous difference” or with long term community development in poverty-stricken areas, or in defence of human rights: Here are some tips for you who are considering a humanitarian career.

Tip 1: Check your motivation

Apart from having a fair amount of passion, grit and perseverance at a development project, you need to examine the real reasons for why you want to work in this field.

Remember, there are many local professionals and local NGOs who are experts at what they do – and who are working hard every day to bring about change. So, will your presence add any value?

How would you like to contribute? Compassion is fine, but in order to be of any use in the humanitarian arena, “just wanting to help” is simply not enough.

If you are completely honest, are your motives for wanting to do humanitarian work in a poverty-stricken community truly based on solidarity? Or do you also have other motives – like that you think it is more “interesting” for you to travel to faraway places? It might be completely fine to wish to explore other parts of the world than the one you grew up in – but please note that being able to travel and having the freedom to do so, is a huge privilege. And with this privilege comes the responsibility to examine your motives.

Make sure you don’t fall into “(white) saviourism” behaviours. Humanitarian work should not be about intervention or mission. It’s a commitment and a partnership on equal terms. Remember that all of us, human beings, are equal. We are here on this planet to work together as individuals and communities.

Having said that, if your comfort zone, the place where you truly thrive, equals long hours, challenging conditions and being painfully aware that you have privileges and are honest about them – your motives to become a humanitarian worker could be perfectly fine.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dedication and solidarity.

Tip 2: Develop personal skills and grit

If you want to be a professional humanitarian, you need a specific type of personality.
Some of the qualities you will need to possess are openness, tolerance, cultural sensitivity, patience and a genuine interest in others and their perspectives. And the ability to keep going, also when the going gets tough.

Some of the realities you might need to deal with daily in the field are abject poverty, blatant corruption and gross injustices. Therefore, you need a high degree of resilience, in order to deal with those types of situations without letting it hamper your work. You need to be able to transform feelings of anger and despair into decisive action energy.

Working together with others will help. Keeping an open mind and learning from them people around you will help. Sharing and not being alone about solving huge tasks will help. Humour and a positive attitude will help. And grit: Not giving up, will help.

All of the above can be innate qualities that you are born with. They can also be some qualities you decide to learn – or develop as maturity and life experience kick in.

Tip 3: Get relevant skills under your belt

Being able to contribute with some real skills is key in humanitarian work. Your skills could be formal (like a degree), or less formal. The skills can be within several fields. For example food security, health care, construction, teaching, management, IT, communications, agricultural science, any medical field, accounting, social work, driving, writing, therapy, security, logistics, architecture, media, finance…

If you studied or trained to achieve these skills, you must be able to apply your expertise in the field. This can be easier said than done, so problem-solving skills and willingness to cooperate with others are important.

Practical skills like a First Aid course, a Basic Food Hygiene Certificate, a driver’s license and similar “sideshows” are useful to have. Be prepared to be a jack of many trades – and perhaps master of one (not “none”).

Other important skills are more of a personal nature. For instance, how to stay healthy in tropical conditions. How to avoid ending up in the hospital because of dehydration. Study the ins and outs of malaria prevention. Know about bilharzia and amoebas. Or frostbite, if that’s a hazard in the region you dream about.

Also, study the region you want to go to, learn about the culture, history and current situation. Read literature by local writers. Follow the local news.

Tip 4: Get some serious long-term field experience

Humanitarian jobs with a major international agency such as the UN, Oxfam or the Red Cross are often reserved for seasoned professionals. If you have no prior experience, you will be fighting uphill, even if you have an excellent university degree. Unpaid internships or volunteer experiences is the norm for NGOs. Therefore, you need to make an investment in this area.

To get the most out of a volunteer experience, make sure it is a long-term one where you have the chance to work through the challenges and learn valuable lessons. Let’s face it, if this is the first time you are “in the deep end of the pool”, it will take you weeks or months to adjust to a new culture and circumstances.

You need to find your feet, get to grips with your tasks, get your head around the language, get to know the people you are working with and so on. Realistically speaking, the first couple of months you will be busy hanging on, as you climb a steep learning curve.

Make sure you get at least 6 months of solid volunteer experience, preferably at a long-term project, where you can learn and contribute. Also, it is preferable to stay in one place, so you have time to adjust, learn, contribute, work through problems and experience some success. To stay the course and harvest the fruits of your efforts will teach you some valuable lessons.

PS. Remember that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn!

Tip 5: Learn languages

Some basic language skills are crucial if you want to work as a humanitarian at the grassroots level. Depending on where in the world you would like to work, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi or French are good for starters.

There are a number of intuitive apps that you can use, or join a crash course or get a friend to teach you the basics. Also, listen to music and watch films in the language you want to learn.

Kick-starting your humanitarian career

If you are interested in finding out whether a career within international development is for you, you could consider joining the Take 10 Volunteer experience, which is a 10-month study / project work / reflection programme.

 

What skills can I develop as a Take 10 Volunteer?

Through the different periods and elements of the programme you have the possibility to develop the following skills:

  • Written & Verbal Communication
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Leadership
  • Self-Reflection
  • Confidence
  • Public Speaking
  • Decision Making
  • Investigative Research
  • Proactive Problem Solving
  • Project Management
Do I need a college degree or field experience to join the programme?

No.

Neither a specific experience nor a degree is needed.

Our programmes are designed to equip you with the relevant knowledge and skills you will need for the project period abroad – the rest you will learn along the way.

A structured gap year can be just what you need.

Remember that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.

Read more…

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Celebrating Female Teachers

Women’s rights are human rights” – therefore female teachers are in high demand. Girls are more likely to feel comfortable and secure in a classroom where they have the support & guidance of a female teacher.

Assisting preschools in Malawi

Assisting preschools in Malawi

Local communities in Mzimba run preschools to promote early childhood development for their young ones. International volunteers assist with building playgrounds.

Homelessness in Denmark

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The training period for the Take 10 Volunteers includes a thorough introduction to important humanitarian issues and causes. One of them deals with homelessness and poverty.

Day of the African Child

Day of the African Child

The Day of the African Child 2019 underscores that children’s rights must be upheld, regardless of difficult circumstances such as disasters, natural or man-made.

10 months structured volunteer experience

3 months:
Preparation – training, practical skills, teamwork, setting goals

6 months:
Project work – in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique or India

1 month:
Conclusion and information activities – reflection, bringing the good message out

Five Tips to Start Your Humanitarian Career

A structured gap year can be just what you need.

Sometimes travelling around and seeing the world is not enough. Sometimes your conscience will not let you ignore what you see with your own eyes. Sometimes you just know you need to do “something” when you are faced with the stark realities you encounter.

For some of us, a solution can be to get involved with fundraising activities back home or to do volunteer work locally. But some have a serious urge to work with humanitarian issues as a full-time career – also abroad.

It takes a specific type of person to become a professional humanitarian. If you dream about “making that famous difference” or with long term community development in poverty-stricken areas, or in defence of human rights: Here are some tips for you who are considering a humanitarian career.

A structured gap year can be just what you need.

Tip 1:
Check your motivation

Apart from having a fair amount of passion, grit and perseverance at a development project, you need to examine the real reasons for why you want to work in this field.

Remember, there are many local professionals and local NGOs who are experts at what they do – and who are working hard every day to bring about change. So, will your presence add any value?

How would you like to contribute? Compassion is fine, but in order to be of any use in the humanitarian arena, “just wanting to help” is simply not enough.

A structured gap year can be just what you need.

If you are completely honest, are your motives for wanting to do humanitarian work in a poverty-stricken community truly based on solidarity? Or do you also have other motives – like that you think it is more “interesting” for you to travel to faraway places? It might be completely fine to wish to explore other parts of the world than the one you grew up in – but please note that being able to travel and having the freedom to do so, is a huge privilege. And with this privilege comes the responsibility to examine your motives.

Make sure you don’t fall into “(white) saviourism” behaviours. Humanitarian work should not be about intervention or mission. It’s a commitment and a partnership on equal terms. Remember that all of us, human beings, are equal. We are here on this planet to work together as individuals and communities.

Having said that, if your comfort zone, the place where you truly thrive, equals long hours, challenging conditions and being painfully aware that you have privileges and are honest about them – your motives to become a humanitarian worker could be perfectly fine.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dedication and solidarity.

A structured gap year spent teaching English is a wonderful experience.

Teaching out of school children

As a volunteer with Humana People to People in India, you can join school projects which aim to bring out of school children back to school.

Tip 2:
Develop personal skills and grit

If you want to be a professional humanitarian, you need a specific type of personality.
Some of the qualities you will need to possess are openness, tolerance, cultural sensitivity, patience and a genuine interest in others and their perspectives. And the ability to keep going, also when the going gets tough.

Some of the realities you might need to deal with daily in the field are abject poverty, blatant corruption and gross injustices. Therefore, you need a high degree of resilience, in order to deal with those types of situations without letting it hamper your work. You need to be able to transform feelings of anger and despair into decisive action energy.

Remember that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.

Working together with others will help. Keeping an open mind and learning from them people around you will help. Sharing and not being alone about solving huge tasks will help. Humour and a positive attitude will help. And grit: Not giving up, will help.

All of the above can be innate qualities that you are born with. They can also be some qualities you decide to learn – or develop as maturity and life experience kick in.

A structured gap year as a volunteer can start of your humanitarian career.

Volunteer in Mozambique

As a volunteer with ADPP Moçambique, you will work together with teachers and others to improve conditions in primary schools.

Tip 3: Get relevant skills under your belt

Being able to contribute with some real skills is key in humanitarian work. Your skills could be formal (like a degree), or less formal. The skills can be within several fields. For example food security, health care, construction, teaching, management, IT, communications, agricultural science, any medical field, accounting, social work, driving, writing, therapy, security, logistics, architecture, media, finance…

If you studied or trained to achieve these skills, you must be able to apply your expertise in the field. This can be easier said than done, so problem-solving skills and willingness to cooperate with others are important.

10 months structured volunteer experience

3 months:
Preparation – training, practical skills, teamwork, setting goals

6 months:
Project work – in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique or India

1 month:
Conclusion and information activities – reflection, bringing the good message out

Practical skills like a First Aid course, a Basic Food Hygiene Certificate, a driver’s license and similar “sideshows” are useful to have. Be prepared to be a jack of many trades – and perhaps master of one (not “none”).

Other important skills are more of a personal nature. For instance, how to stay healthy in tropical conditions. How to avoid ending up in the hospital because of dehydration. Study the ins and outs of malaria prevention. Know about bilharzia and amoebas. Or frostbite, if that’s a hazard in the region you dream about.

Also, study the region you want to go to, learn about the culture, history and current situation. Read literature by local writers. Follow the local news.

Tip 4: Get some serious long-term field experience

Humanitarian jobs with a major international agency such as the UN, Oxfam or the Red Cross are often reserved for seasoned professionals. If you have no prior experience, you will be fighting uphill, even if you have an excellent university degree. Unpaid internships or volunteer experiences is the norm for NGOs. Therefore, you need to make an investment in this area.

To get the most out of a volunteer experience, make sure it is a long-term one where you have the chance to work through the challenges and learn valuable lessons. Let’s face it, if this is the first time you are “in the deep end of the pool”, it will take you weeks or months to adjust to a new culture and circumstances.

You need to find your feet, get to grips with your tasks, get your head around the language, get to know the people you are working with and so on. Realistically speaking, the first couple of months you will be busy hanging on, as you climb a steep learning curve.

Make sure you get at least 6 months of solid volunteer experience, preferably at a long-term project, where you can learn and contribute. Also, it is preferable to stay in one place, so you have time to adjust, learn, contribute, work through problems and experience some success. To stay the course and harvest the fruits of your efforts will teach you some valuable lessons.

PS. Remember that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn!

A structured gap year as a volunteer can start of your humanitarian career.

Develop your humanitarian skills

As a Take 10 Volunteer you spend six busy months at a well-established project in either Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia or India, run by a local Humana People to People NGO.

Tip 5: Learn languages

Some basic language skills are crucial if you want to work as a humanitarian at the grassroots level. Depending on where in the world you would like to work, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi or French are good for starters.

There are a number of intuitive apps that you can use, or join a crash course or get a friend to teach you the basics. Also, listen to music and watch films in the language you want to learn.

 

Kick-starting your humanitarian career

If you are interested in finding out whether a career within international development is for you, you could consider joining the Take 10 Volunteer experience, which is a 10-month study / project work / reflection programme.

 

What does it take to become a Take 10 Volunteer?

In order to enrol in the 10 month International Development Volunteer programme, you need to meet the following requirements:

    • You are 18 years old or older.
    • You are ready to leave your home for 10 months to volunteer in a community environment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    • You have decided not to drink alcohol or take drugs for the entirety of the program.
    • You are eager to experience a multidisciplinary and collective training programme, which includes theoretical and practical activities.
    • You are ready to immerse yourself in a multicultural and diverse community.
    • You are ready to volunteer where you are most needed.
    • You look forward to engaging with the Humana People to People projects in a spirit of cooperation, mutual learning and respect.
    • You are committed to learn about people, cultures, values and traditions, and to share your knowledge and stories with the public after your travels.