Have you ever wondered if you made the right decision doing what you do for a living?
Do you look around and wonder how you can find purpose and strength in an uncertain world?
The other day I was discussing these questions with Camila, our new Programme Manager.
Camila is from Brazil, lives here now, but spent a bit of time working in the US, France and Belgium. We were discussing her experience and what was one of the biggest takeaways from her time abroad.
I found her response really insightful and refreshing, and thought all of you would too.
While having lunch at work one day in Washington, one of my colleagues started telling us about the year she spent in Madagascar teaching English in underprivileged communities. Many others chipped in with their own experiences in developing countries and how they looked forward to going back to “the field”. As the only non-American and the only one who remained silent, they asked me if I planned on working on the ground one day.
Disclaimer: I grew up with immense privilege, for no other reason than pure luck. Against the odds, I’ve always had access to good education, health care and nutrition. I might be considered middle-class here at home, but for global standards, I’m actually pretty wealthy. Why wouldn’t I want to go and directly put this privilege living in vulnerable communities in Ethiopia or Nicaragua or even here in Brazil?
Well, I spent most of my life “in the field” so I’ll be very honest: it’s not easy. And it’s not for everyone.
I told them I felt my skills were more useful in an office than in a rural community and that I really had no interest whatsoever in moving to a place with no running water and electricity. I could do it for a short amount of time – but to live like that for a year or two or more? I just couldn’t do it. Looking back, I realize that probably sounded slightly blasphemous in a group of international development professionals.
Working in developing countries seems like an obvious choice if you want to help people in need. No one will deny that it takes guts to leave a familiar environment to immerse yourself in the different and often harsh realities of other countries. And to fully understand something like poverty or violence, you really do have to see it from up close. One of the benefits of TIE placements.
But it’s important to remember that the field is not the only place where you can make a difference long term. And depending on your skills, knowledge and experience, it may not be where you can make the biggest impact.
These communities are facing big challenges and they deserve to receive the best support possible. But what is the best way you can help?
I believe that it is by leveraging your talent for good: your professional skills, your expertise, your networks, your voice, your company and your ability to advocate for their cause.
All tools necessary to tackle global issues that you probably have in abundance, even if you don’t realize it. And you don’t have to live without electricity and running water to accomplish that.