Sunday December 31, 2006
A passion to help people
To be a full-time international development worker, you need to have a zeal for helping the poor, displaced and marginalised, discovers CASIAN KANG
GANG FIGHTS, burning houses and fatal stabbings are just some of the incidents 25-year-old Teresa Lee has to contend with in her line of work.
“Fortunately with the presence of the United Nations police, things have taken a turn for the better,” she says of her experience in Timor Leste.
“Ethnic tensions are high and a large number of youths have been involved in several incidents of sporadic violence over the past few months,” shares Lee of her current appointment as a programme assistant with World Vision (WV) at Timor Leste.
Lee had spent the previous 12 months in both Indonesia and Cambodia volunteering her time and skills in local aid assistance programmes. She was involved with developing English radio programmes and also assisted with medical clinics in villages.
Looking back, Lee is thankful for the experience gained in both countries. She
describes the living conditions in Timor Leste as bearable.
“At least I have running water, gas and electricity which was not the case in Indonesia.”
Lee was lucky to have arrived in Dili after the security situation had improved. Her superiors and colleagues had to supervise emergency responses, restart suspended programmes and also acquire funding for new projects.
Lee has always wanted to be engaged in something meaningful. Although her work has been centred mostly on administrative duties, she is mindful that her efforts are all contributing towards the bigger picture.
My job involves?
. . . mainly assisting our national staff with shaping up proposals and reports to donors. Coordination and communications support are also some of my responsibilities.
Basically, a small part of my role is to help ensure that World Vision’s emergency response is part of a collaborative approach because coordination between different NGOs and aid agencies is crucial during emergency situations.
During the peak of the humanitarian crisis in May this year there were over 150,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). This accounted for almost 15% of the nation’s total population.
Apart from dealing with crisis relief, we are also involved in long-term development projects. These projects are fundamental to our role here as International Development Workers. While emphasis is always on emergency short-term relief, long-term development work in contrast, is more crucial towards addressing root causes of issues such as poverty and violence.
If we only responded to emergency situations, there would still be millions of people living in poverty. Our purpose in international development work is to assist the community in addressing the poverty barriers that keep them from improving their living conditions.
My morning starts off with?
. . . cold water, toast or cereal and the Bible. It is too hot for tea or coffee.
One of the many projects that I am part of is the Inter-agency Watsan Working Group, which provides water and sanitation to the IDP camps. I help coordinate the distribution of water and sanitation contingency items such as tarpaulins, rope and soap to other aid agencies which then distribute them to refugees at the IDP camps.
I have to ensure that projects are progressing well and gauge how the affected community is feeling about these projects. In the midst of all this, I also assist local staff increase the quality of programmes and their English capabilities.
To qualify, you need?
. . . a graduate degree or at least a diploma. I completed my Bachelors in Applied Science (Planning), which is basically a fancy name for a degree in town planning.
Environment and sustainability, community and policy development, planning systems and frameworks are some of the subjects. Any related discipline or technical area will also help. A comprehensive knowledge of geography and international affairs is necessary.
The best person for the job?
. . . is someone with attention to detail and most important, a tonne of patience! Be prepared for working environments without the basic essentials such as electricity or filing systems. One must have perseverance in helping to improve processes such as organisational procedures and information management. Willingness to listen is also a must, as we have to understand the culture and lifestyle of those affected.
Prospects for the future?
I like to hope that there will be no need for aid relief in the future, not in places where people of all races, ethnicity and religion live together harmoniously. However, natural disasters and conflicts are unpredictable and can happen anytime, and more workers in the field are always welcome.
Understaffing is a common problem in this field due to the nature of the job. One third of the world's population still live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, so there's still heaps of work to be done!
I love my job because?
?being a part in opening up opportunities for people to improve their situation can be very rewarding. This can involve securing funding for a health education project so that communities can learn how to avoid getting sick from preventable diseases. When I hear stories of how our projects have helped communities, such as giving them access to clean water or increasing their agricultural crops, I feel excited. It’s nice to know that there is change happening.
What I dislike most?
Proposal and donor reports have taken up most of my time. I get stuck to my computer and don’t get out enough.
Will I be a millionaire by 30?
Most definitely not. Development work in a third world country is not financially lucrative. There would probably be question marks over your NGO if you were earning enough to be a millionaire by 30. People in this field believe that this world can and should be a better place and those living in poverty deserve better.