Aidan King gives the low-down on working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after returning from a 14-month mission in Gaza:
1. What does your job involve?
I work as a detention delegate for the ICRC, which is a role that involves visiting both prisoners of war and civilians interned during armed conflict. Where possible, the ICRC also visits people detained in other situations of violence.
In Gaza, I was visiting people in Hamas prisons and interrogation centres. We look at people’s conditions and provide some aid, such as toiletries and clothes. We also work with authorities to try and improve conditions in cells and sanitation facilities. There’s an emphasis on making sure such institutions are capable of maintaining any improvements to infrastructure.
2. What motivated you to choose this line of work?
I had moved to Egypt and was working in an educational charity while I learnt Arabic. I didn’t have my heart set on being an aid worker but I wanted to stay in the region and find a job where I could use my Arabic. I had a friend who worked for the ICRC and I realised they had some good job opportunities.
3. What route did you take to your current job?
The ICRC has a strong focus on languages when recruiting delegates so I think I benefitted greatly from going off on my own to work in the Arabic world. It took me almost three years to learn the language, though I know others who have done it in a year. Finally I got my first job with the ICRC in Egypt, following that I was sent to Oman and then to Gaza. Next I may be going to Afghanistan.
4. What was the biggest challenge for you in getting where you are today?
It’s hard to find the time to learn a language, but you just have to throw yourself at it. I failed the ICRC’s Arabic test a few times, but I kept going until I succeeded. It was also challenging when I first started working for the ICRC – it’s an organisation with a very specific culture and way of doing things, there’s a lot to learn. Also, it’s not easy living overseas for long periods of time – you miss your family and friends – but you learn ways to cope.
5. What has been your most memorable experience so far?
Due to the sensitive nature of the ICRC’s detention work there’s a lot I can’t really talk about. But one thing I enjoyed was helping improve conditions at a prison in Gaza and seeing the difference it made to detainees the first time they got to use the showers we’d built.
6. What advice would you give to an aspiring aid worker?
It isn’t easy to get a job in an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) without any overseas experience. But if you’re determined it’s not difficult to turn up somewhere like Egypt and find work with a local organisation.
The Middle East is full of NGOs and it took me just three weeks to find a job in Cairo. There’s so much investment in that part of the world and they always need someone to write a donor report or grant application. It’s not the most glamorous job but it gives you experience, skills and the opportunity to learn Arabic – all of which are invaluable if you want to apply for a job with an organisation like the ICRC. You don’t even have to be fluent in Arabic, but once you can communicate with people you become very employable.
Visit the Red Cross website for information on applying for jobs overseas.