A Day in the Life: Observations of a Humanitarian Aid Worker

By Jane Elizabeth Drichta:

I've had a couple of lovely messages lately, all centered around the theme, "So . . . it looks like you have a really cool job, but what exactly do you do?" And please, rest assured that this is a question I ask myself at least twice a day. So, in the interest of clarifying it for us all, I though I'd give a rundown of a fairly typical day.

Occupational therapist, Jane Worsely, and me!

Just as a reminder, I serve as Country Director with the Free Yezidi Foundation, as well as Founder and Executive Director of Global Motherhood Initiative. Our organizations live together at our compound in Khanke Camp in northern Iraq, working with survivors of the 2014 genocide perpetrated by ISIS. My team runs several programming streams for women, including individual and group therapy, teaching a variety of educational and vocation classes, working with survivors under age 12 in our children's center, and providing loving and compassionate maternity and dental care. And me? Well, let's have a look.

On this particular day, which is a Monday in April, I start my day the way most of us do: far too early and in desperate need of caffeine. (To paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams, I never could get the hang of Mondays.) Two cups of tea later, I'm ready for the 20-minute walk down to camp.

My housemates, Martina, who is one of our psychologists, and Marilen, a volunteer midwife, accompany me. We try not to talk about work outside of the camp, but the walk there is a bit of a grey area and inevitably, our chat turns to beneficiaries who may need extra support this week.

We are beginning a gardening project, and Martina shares the names of those who may benefit from this particular form of therapy. The Yezidi are traditional farmers, and making things grow rather than seeing them destroyed can be holy. Passing on gardening knowledge, those small tricks every grandmother seems to know, is a valuable form of cultural preservation, particularly amongst a displaced people.

At the same time, I take mental notes to ask the camp management for some names as well, as we particularly want to target the very poorest of the camp residents—those who are not in work and who may be more food insecure than the rest. We recently lost regular food distributions, and its absence is definitely being felt.

The site for our soon to be gardening project.

This is one of the hardest things; when an organization that has been providing vital services loses it funding, or decides to put its resources elsewhere. There is just a finite amount of money and seemingly infinite need in this world.

Unfortunately, the Yezidi have never had the benefit of a great public relations campaign, and they are quickly being forgotten by the humanitarian community. We aren't the sexy flavor of the month anymore, so goodbye food packs.

Arriving at my office, which is a small prefabricated metal box prone to leaking on visitors during the rains, I start to answer my emails. One from the Reproductive Health working group in Erbil (three hours away) requesting my presence at some committee meeting. Quick delete. One from another NGO wanting me to come to a coordination meeting where we will say the same things as last month. Polite decline. Three from small NGOs in Africa wanting us to open a branch of GMI there. Sad refusal, as I don't think they understand how small and underfunded we are, but damn, I'd love to be back in Africa.