Isabel P.

Humanitarian Aid Worker
Happy to mentor
Happy to be contacted

About me

Isabel P.
Politics with International Relations
United Kingdom

My employment

Humanitarian Aid Worker
International Organisation for Migration
South Sudan
Charity and voluntary sector

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A day in the life of a Humanitarian Aid Worker in South Sudan

My job really is my vocation; you make a lot of sacrifices when you make the decision to not only work abroad, but also work in dangerous and often remote locations.

Briefly describe the organisation you work for

I work for an international organisation called the International Rescue Committee based in Sierra Leone (I have previously worked for IMPACT Initiatives and the International Organisation for Migration). I work in information management, research, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E), ensuring that projects and programming align with humanitarian needs on the ground.

What do you do?

Whilst my previous roles were more focused on information management (coordinating with other INGO/ UN Cluster Leads and technical working groups to ensure a holistic, real-time and rapid analysis of trends regarding humanitarian and emergency needs to support humanitarian programming), I now focus on Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, as well as running research initiatives for development programming in Sierra Leone for a girls' education project.

Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?

When I finished York, I went straight on to do a masters at the London School of Economics and Political Science in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. From this opportunity, I got good exposure to different humanitarian agencies, and which ones I wanted to work for. From there, I worked in Greece for 4 months volunteering for the refugee response, this gave me a working-knowledge of many different organisations. As I am technically always on short term contracts, most of my work comes from applications through, or networking with different organisations I work with to find out what work is available.

Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?

Absolutely, whilst I have always been involved in volunteering abroad and international politics, I always imagined myself working for the government in the UK. As I was president of the Amnesty International Society at York, I got much more exposure to international politics and human rights, and that encouraged me to do more volunteering abroad. Once I'd begun, it was hard to imagine a life that wasn't focused on what was going on in the rest of the world.

Describe your most memorable day at work

There are many good days and bad days in this line of work. Working in remote areas and being able to work with communities to grasp a real representation of humanitarian needs motivates me. It's a huge privilege to be able to live and work in these countries and meet incredible people.

Are there any challenges associated with your job?

My job really is my vocation; you make a lot of sacrifices when you make the decision to not only work abroad, but also work in dangerous and often remote locations. It takes a long time to get the balance between personal and working life, as often the lines are blurred in this kind of work.

What’s your work environment and culture like?

Exciting! My office can be anywhere from the capital city to under a tree in the deep field. I think it's sometimes difficult to balance working hours because everything is perceived as an "emergency". With time you get much better, and it's easier to prioritise when you need to take time for yourself. It's much easier to create a more balanced working environment when you're back in base with a lot of people, rather than on a field mission in an isolated location.

What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?

I was part of the International Development Society, President of the Amnesty International Society, both of which were really important opportunities to meet like-minded individuals and discuss issues I was passionate about (and also be proved wrong, which is really important). Managing the AI Society in my third year was such a learning curve, and a really important example of the need to be accountable to your society and push forward campaigns that can be life-changing all over the world. In first year I was part of the York Boat Club (couldn't do those 5am starts in second year!). I also worked for YuCall (Giving to York), which really helped me understand how charities work, as well as different strategies for campaigning. During university, I worked with IVS, and I went to the Netherlands to work in an AZC Centre (Dutch Refugee Asylum), which exposed me to work abroad with refugee populations. I also organised a volunteer trip to Athens, where myself and 16 volunteers worked in Piraeus, with refugees that had recently arrived from the Greek Islands.

What would you like to do next with your career?

I would eventually like to move more into programming and aid delivery, and perhaps manage a country mission one day in the future. I am also always looking to organisations such as ODI to pursue more in research, as I think it is a real strength of mine. A PhD maybe too - possibilities are endless and I always like to keep options open. I am a big believer in horizontal as well as vertical growth, I think we get impatient with fast promotions, when actually consolidating and developing skills is hugely important.

What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?

Be BOLD. If you have even 1 out of the 10 competencies a company is asking for, still apply. So many skills are transferable, and it's so important to practice writing applications and getting your CV out there. Practice writing, read articles/ journals/ blogs by people you admire and hone ways that you write about your own opinion. Do not be afraid to contact people on LinkedIn, or sending emails to people or organisations that you like the work of. Most people love talking about what they do as we all invest so much time in, and as long as you are kind and respectful, if someone does not want to reply to you, that was their choice, but at least you put yourself out there.

What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?

Anything related to my job or past experience!

Next steps...

If you like the look of Isabel’s profile, the next steps are down to you! You can send Isabel a message to find out more about their career journey. If you feel you would benefit from more in-depth conversations, ask Isabel to be your mentor.

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