After my graduation in international relations, I started my career in the private sector (Swiss private banking, what else?) taking on increasing responsibilities in Human Resources (HR). I had learned to be result oriented and to deliver the best services. But this meant also high workload, countless hours, demanding internal clients, no time for cooking, no energy left for the weekends... I took a break just on time. I was in my early 30’s and thought it was time to take a skill assessment with a career coach (Into the Field didn't exist yet), the outcome was my decision of helping people in need.
"I don’t remember (maybe I don’t want to) the first colleague who had a security incident, the first shooting..."
I knew nobody working as a humanitarian or development aid worker so when I applied to one of the biggest humanitarian International Organization (IO), I had no sense of what it would be like in the field. I was young and wild, an experienced coach like Caroline Rigaud Duboux would have helped greatly in this transition. The IO needed my HR experience more than my idealism, so I was sent to Chad for my first mission as an HR, Finance & Admin Manager. The reality check was hard and 13 years later, I still remember:
· The family I have left behind, scared to watch the news, some supporting your career change, some thinking there is enough people in need in Europe.
· The first place I have stayed upon arrival: a guest house in N’djamena with a swimming pool surrounded by poverty and a garbage dump with some goats eating whatever they could.
· My first task which was to refill the security trunks again (looting following an attack on the city)
I don’t remember (maybe I don’t want to) the first colleague who had a security incident, the first shooting, the first time you seat in the safe area, the first time a colleague is evacuated for a medical reason… Chad was my first time for many things including all security issues and maybe the toughest one of my six field missions or at least at the same level of difficulty as my last mission in Eastern Congo. But from this first mission I keep some unfailing friendships across the world and very special bonds despite the distance and the years: mostly with expatriates, but also some local people, some who quitted disappointed by the system, some still in the field…
"I will always remember high workload, countless hours, challenging circumstances, but always some energy left because it was all for a purpose"
Of course, I remember unrealistically meeting George Clooney in the bush in early 2009, but getting a chance to help and save people directly or indirectly together with other humanitarian workers superseded my picture with George. To be honest, we were young and wild so "work hard, party hard" was our Semper Fi, but it was our way to celebrate life and to feel alive.
I came back from the field in 2015, some say my heart is still in the field. They just don’t get it: the special bond comes from the things we’ve been through together despite all our differences, the things you don’t need to explain, the things you don’t want to speak of, the moments of joy, the moments of despair, the things only other humanitarian workers can understand. I will always remember high workload, countless hours, challenging circumstances, but always some energy left because it was all for a purpose.
A purpose that is aligned with who I am.