Aid workers are tired and concerned, but not cowed

Posted on: January 26, 2017 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Local aid and development workers in the US

Being an aid worker in the age of Trump
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The toll of dealing with an impending existential crisis
Today I had the pleasure of spending a couple precious hours with Jennifer Foy, the executive director of World Relief for the Winston-Salem/High Point offices in North Carolina. The job of her staff is to facilitate the processing and support of refugees coming into the state from placed like Cuba, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere.

It will take a while to put together my notes and do a follow up with her, so the full report of our discussion will come in several days.

We began the chat in her office commiserating about the news of the day, shared stories of how the last couple weeks were utterly exhausting and Trump-news  dominated.  She observed that she and her staff were having a hard time focusing and were spending more time on social media and news outlets, waiting for the next news bomb to drop.

Words of wisdom
My next post will detail the many topics Jennifer and covered, but more immediately I wanted to share some very wise thoughts from my friend and colleague.  Evil Genius put this post on Facebook last night, and I believe that it is good advice.  He counters the facist Nequiquam est refragatere with this:

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Illegitimi non carborundum*
 
To my aid worker colleagues around the world. Especially, in some ways those of you who are American, like I am, or maybe British; but at the same time not at all to exclude anyone. Whether you’re out on the front lines in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, or innumerable other places where connectivity is sketchy and lattes are made with Nescafe; whether you’re buried in a maze of cubicles in one of the humanitarian capitals; in a UN agency or governmental donor like USAID or BPRM, this is for you:
 
Hang. In. There.
 
If you feel like the floor is shaking, you can’t concentrate, can’t tear yourself away from the horrific freakshow that is the first 100 days, take a mental health day. Or five. Or ten. Because this is not normal. 
 
Take a week of sick leave (the world won’t end). Have the flu. Have your period. Have a toothache. Cash in some comp days. Call in a few favors. Threaten to post those R&R pictures on Facebook, if you have to.
 
Take a week. Hell, take two if you can. Because we’re in for the long haul. We won’t survive if we all flame out in the first few days. 
 
The activists in America are all, “DON’T NORMALIZE THIS!!”, and I agree. The current state of affairs is neither screenshot-2017-01-26-22-41-11normal nor okay. But we’ve seen this kind of thing go down before, in lots of places. A despotic leader takes control and things turn to shit in short order. We have to normalize it at the individual level. We have to get to the point that we can get through the day without our amygdalae popping like little balloons every time The Guardian or NPR or Jezebel posts another article. No, this is not normal, and things will almost certainly get worse before they get better. But we do have to get through it.
 
Let’s not self-aggrandize, but at the same time let’s not understate the situation either: the world needs us to keep doing what we’re doing. Which we can’t do if we’re unable to roll out of bed in the morning. 
 
Take the time. Take the meds. Get the counseling. Drink the extra beer. Do what you have to do to get over the emotional hump of accepting this new (NOT NORMAL) reality, because it’s going to be a long, bumpy ride. 
 
And while we’re at it, let’s hug each other. If your context approves, hug your local colleagues, too. Or at least buy them chocolate, or whatever. This is do-able. We can get through it, but it will have to be together. 
 
Illegitimus non carborundum

[*I added the image and will expand on its relevance in a future post. It does not appear in the Facebook post.]
 Thanks for the solid, EG.
 More to come soon.  Contact me if you are an aid worker -local or otherwise- and would like your voice heard.
Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He is currently working on a second book tentatively titled "Hearing Voices: Dispatches from the margins of the humanitarian sector".

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