Chiran Livera explains the challenges of being an operations co-ordinator and reveals his proudest moments – including one man’s tears of happiness.
What does your job involve?
Organising emergency operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). I am currently based in Senegal, West Africa. When a disaster occurs, I work with that country’s national Red Cross or Red Crescent society. We jointly organise how the operation will be implemented, based on the needs of the people affected. I travel to the affected regions of the country and design parts of the operation such as logistics, finances and human resources.
I also make sure the National Society has all it needs to carry out the planned activities. Once the operation is launched, I continue to give technical assistance and monitor progress from one of our regional hubs.
What inspired you to take on the job?
I’m from Canada, and I always liked to travel and learn about other cultures. During some trips, both in Canada and elsewhere, I saw how people were affected by disasters and this motivated me to help. The Red Cross has an excellent reputation in disaster response so I wanted to join this organisation.
The neutral and independent work of the Red Cross attracted me–I identify with these qualities, as well as the organisation’s other Fundamental Principles.
What route did you take to your current job?
I joined the Red Cross as a volunteer straight after high school and slowly became involved in disaster response in my community. As time went by, my appetite for working in disasters grew and I continued to train and seek opportunities to work in larger and more complex operations. After a few years working in my community, I set my sights on overseas work and moved on to the headquarters of the Canadian Red Cross.
From there the path led to international assignments, which I’ve been doing for the last few years. I feel very fortunate to be where I am and it is important to me to always connect with my volunteer roots in the Red Cross, as our work in disaster response is based on this.
What was the biggest challenge in getting where you are today?
Understanding some of the personal sacrifices required to continue on this path. Working in international disasters is a privilege, though it is not easy and certainly not for everyone. It is difficult to maintain stability with friends and family as I’m always on the move and this is a big cost that disaster workers must understand and be comfortable with.
Ultimately it becomes a lifestyle choice and I have learned to adapt. I have also been fortunate to develop great new friendships along the way and find solutions to staying connected with friends and family.
What has been your most memorable experience so far?
I have memorable moments from each of the emergencies. One recent one is from the Gambia, where we worked with the National Society to provide long-term food security solutions. These included building community gardens so people have access to food throughout the year.
One of the elders later told us with teary eyes how this project has brought the different generations of the community together. He was very happy to see his children and grandchildren working together to plant and harvest vegetables for the entire community.
This type of activity goes back many generations. Through the renewed spirit of the younger generations, he saw how traditional knowledge was being mixed with new agricultural techniques to have healthier harvests. Moments such as these keep me motivated.
What advice would you give to an aspiring aid worker?
Stay determined and seek out opportunities wherever they present themselves. Each one builds our strengths and ultimately defines the type of aid worker we become, so it is important to stay focused on where we want to go and seek opportunities related to that. It is not simple to become an aid worker, and it’s difficult to stay an aid worker.
I’ve found that it’s important to find a passion in this line of work. For many of us, it is to help people who are affected by a crisis and unable to cope. Aid work can be daunting as there is much to do and the work seems never-ending.
However, staying focused on the ultimate objective and keeping the people we help at the centre of everything we do helps us re-focus and put things in perspective.