THE BLOG
08/18/2014 03:21 EDT | Updated 10/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Inside the Life of a Humanitarian Worker

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On World Humanitarian Day, take a look inside the lives of three humanitarian workers from World Vision Canada.

You see humanitarian workers in the news as they help save lives overseas. They appear exciting, intrepid and totally selfless. But they'll be the first to tell you that they're just ordinary people who get to work in extraordinarily challenging circumstances.

We asked three members of World Vision's humanitarian and emergency assistance team, Lindsay Gladding, Julie McKinlay and Vanessa Saraiva, to talk about their work and why they chose to become humanitarian workers.

Q: What are the best and the worst parts about your job?

Lindsay: Helping make lives a little bit easier for children whose lives have been turned upside down. This is the best and the worst part. Finding comfort in knowing I am not standing idly by while children are having their basic human rights denied, but also knowing there will be another crisis around the corner with another group of children who are struggling to survive another day.

Julie: I love meeting the children and families we're helping in some way, as well as supporting the field staff who live in the midst of the challenges year-round. Being away from my family is one of the toughest parts, as well as seeing the magnitude of the needs overseas and knowing we can't help everyone.

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Working in the humanitarian field is tough, but includes many opportunities to connect with the children you're serving, as Julie McKinlay has discovered.

Vanessa: I love it and hate it at the same time. I love it because I'm helping children and families who have been affected by conflict and emergencies, at least on some scale. I hate it because there's just so much happening around the world that it feels impossible to bring aid to all those who need it. But that's also the motivation not to give up: you just keep at it, hoping to create ripples of change.

Q: What made you decide to get involved in humanitarian work?

Lindsay: I always knew I wanted a job where I felt like I was helping make life better for those around me. This desire and my first job as a summer camp counselor working with vulnerable children drew me to humanitarian work. I especially wanted to work for the world's most vulnerable children, kids whose lives are turned upside down by armed conflicts, natural disasters and chronic poverty.

Julie: Every time I travelled overseas, I always came back feeling so privileged to live in Canada. That feeling influenced me to do what I could to help others who didn't have the same opportunities we have here.

Vanessa: I've always been interested in protecting children's basic human rights. The younger a child, the harder they're hit by long-term poverty and humanitarian emergencies. Every child I've met during my travels has such huge dreams and potential. But their circumstances so often prevent them from fulfilling their dreams or reaching their goals.

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Vanessa as a World Vision volunteer in Bangladesh in 2010, as she was finishing school and firming up plans to become a humanitarian worker.

Q: What kind of education does a humanitarian worker need?

Lindsay: Everyone takes a different path. I have an undergraduate degree in socio-cultural studies and a diploma in community development from Western University. And a post-graduate certificate in international project management from Humber College in Toronto.

Julie: I have an undergraduate degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary, and a post-graduate certificate in international project management from Humber College.

Vanessa: For me, it's an undergrad degree in public administration and justice studies from York University, and a post-graduate certificate in international development from Humber College. I'm currently finishing my master of laws from the University of London, in the UK.

Q: What advice would you give to a young person who might be thinking about making a career in humanitarian work?

Lindsay: Travel overseas at every opportunity. Volunteer, backpack, just explore new places and surround yourself with experiences that challenge the way you see the world. Before my career with World Vision, I travelled solo to South Africa. During a layover in Frankfurt, I was wandering the streets when I came across a large art installation with the words "Open Your Mind". This is the best advice I can give to anyone considering this career.

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Lindsay Gladding in Afghanistan, where World Vision's humanitarian work involves helping pregnant mothers and newborn babies.

Julie: Don't expect to work a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday job. Disasters and conflicts don't work that way. When you're working with staff in many different time zones, you have to expect conference calls at five am and late in the evening. But when you get to go and see the difference your work makes, it is worth the extra effort.

Vanessa: Be flexible, patient, and adaptable. Emergencies are mentally and physically exhausting. You have to keep working and trust that you've made a difference to someone, somewhere. Also, become comfortable with being lonely at times. If you're lucky, you'll work with a team that becomes your family, but amidst all the travel that each of us does, there are definite moments of loneliness in new, albeit exciting, countries.

Learn more about humanitarian emergencies and how you can help by visiting worldvision.ca