How to come to the aid of aid workers?

We are constantly reminded how being an aid worker can be a perilous profession.

Recently more attention has also been given to the mental well-being of aid workers as well as their work-life balance. A majority of aid workers experience mental health issues for a number of reasons ranging from stress and danger in the field to lack of support.

ICTs and social media are now helping to bring this issue to the foreground and offering some new and useful resources.

The Secret Aid Worker in The Guardian, for example, is a well-known online column that regularly features stories about the personal lives of aid workers, ranging from more serious issues to slightly lighter matters.

Blogging in its various forms has also become a way for aid workers not only to share their professional experiences but also to reflect on their private lives. As Denskus & Papan (2013) highlight, “blogging becomes a reflection of the often blurred boundaries between work and private lives that aid workers experience in developing countries.” (p. 463)

The blurred boundary between this perilous work and a fragmented personal life can often be a recipe for burnout. Pigni (2016) explored how often aid workers are psychologically unprepared for aid work, with organisations paying no attention to the mental health dimension. Instead, by having healthier organisations, in a structural sense, aid workers “can better affect change” (Pigni, 2016, p. 59).

On her website/blog Alessandra Pigni offers various resources and advice to prevent burnout among humanitarian professionals.

Life in Crisis is another blog I encountered dealing with the stress and burnout in aid work. The aim of the blog is to highlight the emotional challenges that aid workers face.

One of the common features of the blogs is the vivid presence of the authors who usually place themselves at the centre of the writing (Manning, 2012, p. 7). Blogging therefore comes across as the perfect medium to discuss the personal dimensions of aid work.

A not-so-recent but still relevant article in The Guardian focused instead on a peer-coaching pilot programme by the organisation WhyDev. This helped aid workers  in remote locations, isolated from friends and family, to cope with extreme mental stress. The strategy was to connect them with other aid workers via a peer-to-peer network, matching their interests and experiences.  The programme is now closed and an evaluation report has since ben published.

All in all, these examples show how ICTs and social media can provide an alternative representation of aid workers, as well as having a potential positive impact on their lives.

2 Comments

  1. I really like your post, Manuela. And I do think the mental well-being of people working in Development is often overlooked. I volunteered for a while as “clown doctor” in some hospital, and it’s incredible the amount of pain and difficulties you are called to take from people around you and give them back positiveness. It is increasingly difficult, especially in our field: I now work on the issue of climate change, and it is really hard to stay positive on such matter when you read hundreds of articles on the topic every day.

    I do like how you link blogging with the issue you discuss. In my personal experience, I use Social Media to feel much more “at home” since I am an expat, but at the same time I don’t blog anymore because I don’t really have time and also I feel there is just too much information overload out there, so the time I should spend for keeping a blog is not really worth, in my opinion. What do you think?

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