The Field Mission Dilemma: Risks, Realities and Resources
Humanitarians are part of a political complex maze, that make us targets more often than not. Add to that the health issues that come with hygiene, climate, tropical disease, malaria etc. All these factors combined, make Humanitarian Aid work one the most stressful jobs around. The choice to stay in this profession has become a calculated risk. A risk most of us are willing to take. It’s a job, a calling, a profession, a way forward…
Fit for Purpose: DIY Wellness program for Humanitarian Aid Workers
The need to increase risks is unnecessary for those of us that stay. I suggest here that, we DO increase the already high risks by not looking after ourselves — where we can. We can make changes to how we eat, exercise, de-stress, rest, ‘have fun’ — even when the situation and space may not seem ideal
Prevention comes in many forms, and a wish to remain well should come naturally. That is so much easier said than done, to be sure! The realities of field work do not cater for gyms, spas, open landscapes and golf courses — right?
It is possible however, with a bit of ingenuity, and motivation, to find a better fitness level. By making a few healthier choices you will be more focused on the job at hand, and well enough for that very precious time ‘at home’. There is little out there for field based staff with regard to fitness, health prevention (i.e. healthy lifestyle choices) and wellness.
A Wellness program is not necessarily top of the agenda for employers in the Humanitarian field. Your mates ‘back home’ enjoy a number of wellness initiatives as part of their employment packages — as research show that healthier employees makes for more productive ones. The Humanitarian Aid Organisations, and their partners, have not yet given this top priority — understandable…saving ‘others’ comes first. However, with increasing signals of ailing Humanitarian Aid workers, wellness programs will enter the arena although it will take some time.
Therefore – rather than sitting there and complaining that someone should do this and that… YOU can start your own wellness initiative. You can actively choose to make healthier choices, stay fit, maintain a level of ‘sanity’, and make some changes for your own sake. This so you can Feel Good, Be Good AND Do Good during your tour of duty — and after.
Fit for Purpose: part of a Series on The GOODista
The Field Mission Dilemma series here on The GOODista explores how to stay fit, eat healthier, supply tips, DIY logistics, tips, hints, recommendations and motivation to keep well under the very particular circumstances that remote living and field mission work mean. You are more than welcome to comment, add material and suggest. It makes it better! Please feel free to follow the series on The GOODista . If you missed the introduction to this series, I recommend:
Fit for Purpose: a Field Mission Dilemma?
What we experience in the field / on mission / on tour, are some of the most memorable and intense experiences we are likely to ever have again. We build friendships that endure, and the camaraderie is special.
What we see can be amazing natural beauty, and endless untouched landscapes. The people that we meet locally are some of the most honest, clear and wonderful human beings we can ever meet. Just the fact that ‘tweets’, ‘celebrity get me out of here!’, and ‘Apps’ are not part of their, or your, daily life is such a relief in the world of today!
The intensity of the experiences are such that you cannot explain them when you ‘get out’. The eyes of children, woman and men on the brink of disaster and death; the grief and loss; the wounded; the starving; the scarcity of resources and ravages of civil strife and wars…. Yet – those small moments of utter joy, in the midst of what one might think is just sadness, is what makes it all worth it….
Stress, Rest and Relationships
Back home, you may try to put into words what you have seen, done and heard – but how can friends and family possibly understand?
This in itself creates tension, and stresses, that add to the accumulated stress that you already carry around. The working hours are relentless, and living conditions not easy. Relationships are hard to keep up, when you spend so much time apart — and unless the other partner has experiences similar or alike to what you are going through — it will take some work to get relationships going each time you come back from tour.
To actually rest during the ‘Rest & Recreation’ off-duty days? It often turns into ‘Rock & Roll’ instead. Not quite as conducive to real rest as it should be. Sure – being away gives a relief of sorts. Yet… In a bizarre way — back at base you are surrounded by others like you — and the understanding is there. It can at times even be more restful to be back at camp, into your routine, and in your bubble again.
Food is provided for you, if you live in a compound. The nutritional overall value is probably very well thought out by logicians, and managers but, the place you are in may not easily allow for storage, and hence fresh fruit and vegetables are not easily on the menu — and variety a bit of an issue. The protein you get may be great on ‘shipping day’, but more ‘local’ towards the end of the logistics schedule. If you live off camp you will have access to local shops, which is great but you are limited to what is there.
The water you have access to may be rationed, and only available during canteen hours. The water ‘on tap’ is not necessarily clean – and water-borne diseases is something we all know too well. Yet – you need to drink a lot more than the stipulated 6 – 8 glasses of water a day. You need more as you move around more in harsh climates – and often you do not think about this until you have gone beyond thirsty.
Water is also a luxury, as you need it to wash in. A long hot shower, or a bath is not quite what we are used to. Water may come in a trickle, in a construction you can call ‘a shower’ — but hey! — it’s water. You can keep yourself somewhat clean, and wash a few of your clothes too.
People in the field are not that fit. The confined spaces we live in, and the constraints of a limited compound makes for a lot of sitting around. It is easier to ‘do nothing’ as the mere thought of doing exercise, seems like no-no, after the days we have. Camp logistics will plan more easily for a Bar, than allocate space to do exercises in — right? If you have a gym to go to you are lucky!
Fit for Purpose: Not a Field Mission Dilemma
The Field Mission Dilemma is one of too few choices and too little access. The word ‘Dilemma’ means to choose between two (or more) equally unattractive choices. Hence, why you have to consider the choice that made you get there in the first place. Once you come to realisation that you will actually stay in said place for days and weeks on end – you might as well do something about it — right?
Why should you choose to ‘do something about it’?
The challenge is to ‘be good’: Find a way to stay fit while you are on mission. To ‘do good’: You need energy and resilience, for the purpose of your mission. And the result: Feel Good feeling!
Just as an example: Exercise is a health must — and to stay healthy you need to actively do something in this area. Exercise clears the mind, brings ‘happy endorphins’, and makes us produce better, more focused work. It takes our mind off the work for a while, and is such a stress buster! We feel good, and want to continue with other equally healthy choices.
Another area you can look at is how you sit, need to take breaks and generally – how to be healthier and happier at work.
Healthier choices do not necessarily mean an all-out campaign. It can simply be to make more conscious effort to take small and very feasible steps to:
- Stress, Relaxation and Sleep
- Food and Nutrition
- Water and Hydration
- Exercise and Fitness
If you do good by being good to yourself — the result is also that you ‘feel good‘. You gain a more rewarding experience, quality time with friends and family — and peace of mind, because you are able to process your experiences more easily.
Resilience must not be assumed as a given quality to all aid workers in any situation. Moreover, there is room for improvement in enhancing resilience factors and containing causes of vulnerability. Finally, it must be recognised that responsibility for aid workers’ well‐being is shared between the individual and the organisation. – Pascale Blanchetière, November 2006
The Field Mission dilemma is the suggestion that being fit for purpose — during the mission and after — despite the limitations of choices, access and job pressures. I suggest that by making a few changes, a few healthy ‘lifestyle choices’, DO make a huge difference to how we are able to handle a difficult job, user challenging conditions, and alleviates the pressures that come with such circumstances. While it may take some time before the Humanitarian Aid organisations wake up to wellness programmes in a big way — it is up to the individual to make small step-by-step changes.
The Field Mission Dilemma series here on The GOODista will continue to look at the choices that brought us here; how to get to a level of food and exercise fitness; how to look at rest; how stress needs help; and most of all motivation to keep well under the very particular circumstances that remote living and field mission work mean. You are more than welcome to comment, add material and suggest. It makes it better! Please feel free to follow The GOODista for tips, tools about lifestyle changes you can do every day and working (far) away.
- Website for Aid Workers and Field staff – People in Aid
- Network for Aid Workers / Field Staff – Aid workers net
- Trauma and Humanitarian Aid Workers – Psychology Today
- Health and Tools for Field based people – Inter-health worldwide
- How to Be Healthier and Happier At Work – fix.com