Humanitarian Aid Worker Job Description
Humanitarian aid workers are responsible for developing, executing and managing emergency response programs within geographic areas that have been affected by war, natural disasters, environmental problems or developmental problems. Humanitarian aid workers must facilitate the effective and efficient distribution of humanitarian aid to the individuals and groups who require it. They may be employed by government agencies or non-profit organizations. As a Humanitarian Aid Worker, you work to save people’s lives, ease their pain and suffering, and preserve human dignity. Aid can take many forms. Often, you provide emergency medical services as well as food, shelter, and clean water.
What does the job look like?
Imagine living in the bush in sub-Saharan Africa working 10, 12-hour days, hundreds of miles away from anything resembling a city, to coordinating aid packages for war refugees in less-than-safe locations, to being the first crew on the ground after an international disaster like a tsunami. Friendships form fast when you live with your colleagues, spending the weekends exploring your new home base together. While one might choose to invest themselves longer in a particular country or region, the life and work of a humanitarian is vastly different than your typical 9 – 5 grind.
Finding a Job/ How to get a Job?
You must have the right qualifications, because good intentions are not enough. Aid agencies are looking for a mix of appropriate skills, relevant experience, and the right personality. It’s a bit of an unclear mix and there’s no magic formula. However, if you’re lacking one of these three, you’re really going to struggle to get employed by an NGO.
Working ‘in the field’ for an NGO remains one of the hardest careers to get post-college. The room for vocational skills is relatively small now, as most skilled job sets can be sourced locally.
1. Educate Yourself
What are the requirements?
NGOs will generally be looking for a graduate degree of some sort that demonstrates that an applicant has a general overview of developing country contexts.
This covers a pretty wide range of options and could be a degree in development studies, in economic development, in sociology or in demographics, as a handful of examples. NGOs want to know that you understand the implications of working in developing countries- fundamental principles such as participation, dependency, risk management, and a generalist’s knowledge of less developed countries.
Unless you have extensive volunteer experience, a master’s or graduate degree is a ‘must’ for the NGO world.
Although the degree doesn’t have to be completely aimed at a humanitarian crisis skill like food security, it should work on something applicable.
For more technical skillsets and people interested in technical fieldwork, there’s also a broad range of options. For those interested in long-term development work, things like agronomy, agriculture, economics and public health are all relevant degrees. Medical doctors and nurses, logisticians, civil engineers and nutrition specialists can all find technical roles in an emergency response team.
So to work for an international NGO, you really have to think very carefully about what it is that you have to offer over a graduate from the University of Nairobi with fifteen years of relevant experience.
Even with a master’s degree, it is close to impossible to land your first job without some internship experience on your CV.
Most applicants will have this sort of educational background, and you not only won’t stand out, but will probably be surpassed by the very high number of people with two or more degrees- often a Bachelors and a Masters, and often one generalist degree with a second more specialized qualification.
It is highly competitive with emigrants from non-western countries. As global education levels rise, more