Reflections from a Tropical Island

It’s not often that in this line of work there is time to sit and think and reflect. This week I have been moved up to our rural mountain base, a simple site with very basic facilities and there is not much else to do but sit and ponder. As the torrential rain poured down outside my cabin last night I took some time to reflect on my time here.

The life of an expat aid worker is full of contrasts. Last weekend I sat at a beach resort looking out at the clear turquoise of the Caribbean Sea, shaded from the sun by tall palm trees. A resort that on any other island would be crammed full of tourists was busy with NGO and UN staff. A day off at the weekend here can transport you to a totally different reality.

On the beach front I sat and chatted with some of my colleagues about their careers in aid work and different experiences. As someone just starting out in this area, it is fascinating to learn from others hard-earned wisdom. As one of my colleagues considers taking a posting in Somalia, it made our life here seem positively easy.

There are many things to consider in embarking on a career in aid work, and it takes some deep soul-searching to examine your motivations and desires to ‘go and make a difference’. There are many frustrations in the field, challenges and difficulties to overcome. There are also great rewards, seeing a successful project bring a smile to a beneficiaries face, meeting community members who have participated in the project, and working with highly motivated local staff. There are some perks too, not least the tropical beaches in Haiti.

As I chatted to my colleagues I wondered how many of these things will continue to motivate me in months and even years time. Will I become disillusioned with the inherent difficulties in trying to work in a disaster zone? Will I become far too enamoured with the ex-pat lifestyle and the perks that come with it? I hope that neither extreme will characterise my career choice, but that sacrifices made for the sake of seeking to help other human beings live a life of greater dignity will be worth it.

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