17 May 2010


Rachel (@Civoknu) out in Goma vents some of her frustrations of being a perma-volunteer.  Her combination of snark and sarcasm make it less of a rant and more pointed discussion concerning the fact that labor of ‘unskilled young people’ can be exploited by making them work for free in jobs that require skill and learning with little or no compensation (I use quotes because it is a liberally used term that applies to anyone with little experience and allows for organizations to exploit people with talents that may not be apparent on a resume or college transcript). 

The point of humanitarian aid is to do such an awesome job that we become unemployed, right? Then I must really be AMAZING. Taking that as our main criteria for success in the aid world, I’m basically one of the top workers out there – I have never ever, ever even been employed. Beat that.

My myriad of supervisors here shake their heads and tell me to not give up hope – that I’m doing a great job – that eventually something will fall into place. They say that the lack of response that anyone in HR departments gives me is embarrassing. They say not to take it personally – it’s not personal – it’s not personal. They say oh how they wish they could keep me here. And then they ask me to work Saturdays, and Sundays, too, to complete this budget narrative or that work plan, quickly, now, before the aid world throws me back out on the street at the end of the month. And I do. Because I care about the “beneficiaries”, I care about the “beneficiaries”, I care about the “beneficiaries”.

Person after person after person talks about volunteers disparagingly. Volunteers: People who aren’t real aid experts, just off to find adventure or to feel good about themselves while on holiday. Volunteers: We aren’t the doctors, we are the people who lie and introduce ourselves as doctors at cocktail parties in order to get the attention of the hot men in the room. We’re the idiots who want to make a difference in the lives of gang-raped orphans by hugging them, because we don’t understand the true complexities of the profession. No wonder I get no response, often not even cut-and-paste form letters, from job applications – I’ve been a volunteer in four different countries.

Volunteers: We shouldn’t even exist.

I think that there is a place for volunteerism and it is always hard to pay every person in the non-for-profit world.  However, someone to play with children for free is different than someone who writes you a grant proposal.  In full disclosure, I am sympathizing with Rachel because I am feeling equally as disappointed in the fact that it is very hard to find jobs in this field.

I have been able to reason it out to myself so far because I feel that this struggle has made me better realize what I want to do and solidified that this is the field in which I want to enter.  Certainly there is more I can do for myself (ie. add my CV to this blog and actively use it is a tool to garner a job in addition to just sharing my thoughts).  Suggestions are, of course, welcome.