World Humanitarian Day 2021
Every year, thousands of Australians leave the comforts of home to work and live with some of the most vulnerable people living in the most dangerous places in the world.
As far as expats go – they are hands down the toughest. Highly skilled and educated, their careers are full of choice. Yet they sacrifice salary and security to take jobs that can also put them in danger.
They do it to help improve the lives of others. Their view of the world – is always a global one.
On World Humanitarian Day, we want to recognise and say thank you to those in the Insync Community for the contribution they have made as Australian humanitarians – not only during their time overseas but in sharing their experiences when they come home.
World Humanitarian Day is commemorated every year on the 19th August to pay tribute to humanitarian workers killed and injured in the course of their work, and to honour all aid and health workers who continue, despite the odds, to provide life-saving support and protection to people most in need.
In our community, we have humanitarians who are currently based abroad and those who are back working domestically. Humanitarian workers face transition challenges different from other expats.
While all expats face reverse culture shock of some degree, humanitarian workers are often moving from living in developing world conditions to developed world conditions and naturally the distinction is a stark one, often emotionally challenging to deal with.
As expats many of us relocate for work opportunities and as such can be challenged by the work-life combination. However, for humanitarians working in field they often face living in hazardous or severely impoverished environments with undefined timeframes, high degrees of uncertainty, limited health resources and a lack of social or leisure activities. Anxiety, trauma and compounded stress are unfortunately often associated work hazards faced by many humanitarians. The Peace Corps refrain: “This is the toughest job you will ever love” seems apt.
Humanitarians work and live alongside locals who become trusted colleagues, friends and often ‘adopted’ family members. Often when humanitarian workers leave their posting, it is not because a conflict has been ‘solved’ rather than it is their time to leave. This means leaving behind people who have become friends and adopted family behind in situations that continue to be difficult and dangerous and this can be incredibly emotional. Humanitarian workers will often talk about leaving a part of themselves in the country they have lived and that they carry the people and the country in their hearts wherever they go
A humanitarian’s friends and professional networks are spread all over the world. While this isn’t unique to them – it is often far greater than your average expat. Current closed borders restricting both short-term and long-term travel is having significant impact on humanitarian workers based in Australia because it means they can’t do necessary in-field and work travel – they are losing the face-to-face interactions and ultimately sense of connection with communities that is a vital part of their service.
For those Australian humanitarian workers overseas, the closed borders and an inability to quickly get home when they need to is causing immense anxiety. Trips home are often an integral way of maintaining mental health when working in challenging and dangerous countries. Pre-COVID, home was often always just 24 hours away – and now that safety blanket no longer exists.
For career humanitarians, living at home in Australia permanently isn’t an option and often moves home need to be considered short-term.
If anyone needed reminding of the danger our humanitarian workers face on a daily basis, the images coming out of Afghanistan and Haiti this week serve this purpose. Whether on the ground or working from Australia, our humanitarian workers are facing into the world’s biggest catastrophes.
On behalf of our community – we say thank you. Not only for your service but for sharing your stories with us.
A contribution that expat-repats make that often does not get talked about, is the sharing of global stories and perspectives with our community back home. These stories broaden our minds, our perspectives and make us all more globally connected and aware. Together these stories help shape Australia’s broader, global perspective and hopefully when borders re-open, more Australians can share their stories with us.