Sunny Amsterdam provides a great backdrop for People In Aid’s humanitarian HR conference and it is an absolute honour to have BBC Radio 4’s foreign correspondent Mike Thomson as a keynote and to have spent a little time in his company. His tenacity, courage and selfless commitment to get the story out is inspiring.
Like journalists and their ‘story’, aid workers are often driven by that same desire to reach the unreachable, and to change an individual or a community’s life for the better. And rightly so.
But it strikes me that often that desire is realised against the odds: burnout, bureaucratised workplaces, big egos, cynicism, financial and operational constraints – and plenty of other things – can quickly demotivate and blunt even the most fervent spirit. Perhaps to the extent that the desire that was such a driver in the first place becomes dulled or extinguished.
It also strikes me that we’re a little short of outrage in aid work… Outrage in the sense that we should be outraged by some of things that happen in this world we share. Sure, it’s not healthy to live in a perpetually traumatised state, but we do need to be emotionally impacted by what we see and by what goes on around us, because outrage provokes response.
I guess that means we probably have to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable in the ‘line of duty’, yet at the same time we must ensure we have sufficient protection mechanisms in place. That requires an acknowledgement of personal responsibility, and it requires employers to behave responsibly too.
Food for thought…
But what can we do with our outrage? I am outraged that as many as 700 children a day can die from AIDS/HIV. I am outraged that children die from hunger, are sold as slaves or forced to fight. I am outraged that my friends are persecuted, jailed and tortured because of their faith, or are forced to become refugees. I could go on.. you know as well as I how very bad some things are and will continue as long as men and women fight and desire power and wealth. So what can we do? I think the only response we can make is to be ever more compassionate and willing to give aid and succour wherever we can. It will never be enough and it won’t stop the badness. But we have to try.