So you want to be an aid worker, huh?

by Steve Cran

Frontline aid work is hard work and takes a special type of person to deliver effective aid, let alone survive in the field. After a disaster, a war, a famine or drought, villages and communities are harsh places to live. Food and clean water are scarce as well as sometimes there are serious security issues.

I’ve had 18 years of frontline aid work. I’ve worked in rural Aboriginal communities, conflict zones, disaster zones, urban slums, prisons and generally hardcore poverty zones with difficult people of all types.

I have had to date 8 serious bouts of malaria, 5 dengue fevers, eye infections that blinded me for weeks, typhoid and dysentery as well as being poisoned with Agent Orange.

I’ve been shot at, chased with machetes, survived rioting mobs and had a price on my head. I’ve crashed four wheel drive vehicles, wiped out motorcycles, fell out of trees, cut myself badly with sharp tools, and even charged by a bull elephant, all the time trying to help people become self sufficient using local resources. I’ve trained ex-guerilla soldiers, murderers, bureaucrats, thieves, ex-child soldiers, mental patients and disabled people. I think someone must have put the Chinese curse on me “may you have an interesting life”. I’m still healthy and alive and I have a few stories to tell my grandkids.

So you want to be an aid worker, huh?

You really want to help people, end poverty, and bring assistance to communities in need?

You want to bring permanent solutions to environmental destruction, drought, health problems, economic problems and end conflict?

You want to replant the deforested lands, make the rivers run clean and find sustainable livelihoods for impoverished people? You want to turn hell into paradise?

If so, forget conventional aid, it’s an embarrassment to the human race.

How can so much money be spent with so little positive results?

Easy, the people that run the UN, aid agencies and charities lack field experience and they are mostly trained in theory (would you trust them to come and rescue you?).

If you take the conventional education route to aid work (a degree at university in development), you’ll end up in an air-conditioned office or 4-wheel drive somewhere safe and probably never get your hands dirty. You’ll write heaps of reports using a million acronyms and destroy thousands of acres of forest for the paper you need. Once in a while you may hire a guy like me to do the fieldwork but no real need as the money comes in whether you get results or notÉa sad story really.

Imagine all those thousands of people that started into aid work with the right intentions and now are aid-zombies working in offices passing around recycled reports.

The alternative to conventional aid is Permaculture aid. This type of aid teaches communities to grow their way out of poverty using their local resources. A single permaculture field trainer or a team of permaculture aid workers can help a community make a plan that gets real results in a relatively short time. Starting with home gardens, a village can become year round food secure in several months. Home gardens also improve health and kick-start the local economy. Even a single mother with eight kids can start a home garden with some basic instruction in best-practice organic gardening skills. Permaculture trains people to respect their environment and rebuild their community and ecosystems simultaneously creating true sustainability.

Aid organizations, the UN, charities and governments would be wise to hire our type of people to spend their money more intelligently. Those organizations that have used our talents got excellent results compared to their previous ones.

How do you become a Permaculture aid worker or field trainer?

Firstly you have to understand what you are capable of. If you really are the adventure type and you can handle the tough times with the good times then you start with a 2-week, permaculture design certificate course (PDC), taught by a reputable trainer.

Next, take a permaculture aid worker field-ready course ( the UN would call this a PAWFRC) with me, or someone with similar experience. You really need someone that has been in the field to learn the field skills and all the thousands of short cuts you cant find in books.

Once you have successfully passed your courses the next step is to take on volunteer work along side an experienced aid worker or permaculture aid team. Some of you may want to jump straight in the deep end. Good luck on that one. I was thrown into the deep end on my first development job but I at least had a decade as an infantry soldier under my belt. There is no glamour in this job. You really have to love your planet and love people and risk whatever it takes to get the job done. You gain confidence as you go. You learn a to be wary of organizations and institutions at the same time as having to work with them. Nobody ever stops learning and you become the eternal student and the eternal teacher rolled into one. You measure your success by what changes happen on the ground, not how many meetings you attended or how much funding your project received.

Some jobs are paid, some are volunteer and some cost you personally. The successful projects leave working models of sustainability behind for others to learn from. Demonstration is authority in our manual so people will see you as an authority when your systems outperform theirs.

Do you still want to become an aid worker?


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