Work in Darfur is not easy and simple. It might be an attractive place to adventurous humanitarians who enjoy high levels of adrenaline, challenges and facing difficult situations. But, looking from another side – it may be a very lonely, stressful time and place to be. Usually those are unaccompanied positions therefore people go there leaving their families and loved ones at home. Every two months or so you are able to go on your R&R (extra leave to your annual leave) for 1-2 weeks which might be your home but maybe not. Depends on the distance, expenses etc. Moreover, while staying in Darfur, due to high insecurity, there are great restrictions on movement especially to the international staff, therefore often the only movement one has is – ‘home – office – home’. To make things worse, your accommodation might be in the same building as the office, just on another floor, which may mean that you even don’t leave a building during the day. You may be lucky if the accommodation is in a good quality, but sometimes living conditions might not be very comfortable or of high standard. If you need to do shopping, you would go with a car; a driver would drive you to the market during the daytime or in the morning and will not allow you to walk around much. Your weekends might be spent in the company of internet (though, sometimes it may be quite slow or not available), TV or books, because your national colleagues would be with their families, while you would not have other friends or international colleagues (depends on the size of your office and organization). Socialization and networking among international staff is difficult. Every gathering, especially among international staff and outside working hours, can be treated by police with suspicion, which can create troubles to the NGO you work for. Therefore, people avoid meeting in larger groups to escape potential problems. So, for 2 months you may be working from 9 to 5 or longer and then rest of the time spend in your flat on your own except very short visits to the market.
So, just think about it – what on personal level motivates you to do this?
For some, it is this professional recognition they gain from this work. Helping others, altruism, making a difference and change may be often the drivers to do this. Also, an extraordinary experience like working and living in Darfur for some time might improve ones employability later on and provide good future career prospects.
However, for many humanitarian workers, especially from African countries, this is a simple survival. First of all, for those who have managed to get a decent education and experience, working for NGOs in developing countries is one of the few ways how to grow professionally while also earning reasonable salary. Moreover, the concept of extended families means that whoever manages to get a good enough job should help to his/her family which goes beyond parents, siblings, grandparents, children, partners and aunts. More than half of the salary earned by the aid worker might be sent to the members of one’s extended family which is considered to be as a duty and responsibility, not just as a voluntary act. In result of this, one may be away from his own family, children for months and years, living in these hard conditions in order to feed his family and help to get better. One, while completing his duty and not being able to save much for himself , in the same time may become a stranger to his own family and lose the bond. One may not see how his children grow, make the first steps, read the first word, learn a song or how to cycle. Just because there are no equally good job opportunities in ones’ own country, he/she is paying this price.