The cost of aid work/ of being away.

This blog has always (hoped to, at least) combine the personal issues of being an aid worker, with the professional ones. I don’t think, and have never thought that these issues can be separated, nor should be. Aid work/ development work – whatever you call it, stems from a deeply personal set of beliefs and perceptions about the world, and how the world should be. We are all, in this business, ideologues, I guess.

Some years back, when I lived in Australia, and having fun was easy, I used to go surf-kayaking. In little squirt boats, we would surf the waves, rolling and flipping, like wannabe dolphins.

On one occasion, I got dumped, badly. I didn’t roll up immediately, and so I got a lungful of water, and got disoriented. When I finally did roll up, the next wave hit me, and by then, I was close into shore, and this wave pushed me deep into the sand. My head hit the sea bed, hard. A bit harder, I could have broken my neck. My mate Mike, who was watching, had no idea where I was. When I finally emerged, I was a wreck. I had to go to the doctor to get my ears syringed, to get the sand out. She didn’t believe me, when I told her what had happened.

That’s sort of how I feel now. The ride got really hard, this last year. I find myself wondering,  has it been worth it? If I re-do the arithmetic, what will the answer be?

But, then, as I said, we are all ideologues in this business. We started this work, because we believed, long before the rest of the world was interested, that Afghanistan could be something more than a byword for misery and hopelessness. And that we could, or should, be part of that healing.

But why should that belief lead us to conclude that we would pass unscathed? Isn’t there likely to be a cost, somewhere? The other lives of which I am also a part  – son, brother, friend – have continued, in their various parts of the world. Nothing stopped, just because we went to work in Afghanistan. There will be a cost, and we were told that, right at the start. If that cost is never apparent, you are either very lucky, or have somehow stayed close to the surface, buoyant enough to avoid the deep currents.

Deep down though, I know I hoped that these other lives would keep till we returned.


8 thoughts on “The cost of aid work/ of being away.

  1. hey mate,
    sorry the ride’s been so rough and the cost feels so high just now.
    as i told you and julie last year, i deeply admire the sacrifices and the hard yards you’ve both put in despite all the costs. hope you’re taking care of yourselves somehow right now…
    love and peace, kezza

  2. ditto to the mate above. you guys have really put your convictations first and to a height most of us don’t dare (or I should say depth to continue your analogy). hang in there and hopefully this year will get easier. our thoughts and prayers are with you all
    love elisa

  3. Phil, We have been thinking and praying for you, Julie and your family as you mourn the loss of your Mom. So so sorry. Sending our hugs and love to you.
    Love, Dave Kirsti Eliana Lief and Alexander

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  7. Hey Phil,
    I think this post really moving. I’m actually writing a case study for my final year at uni, I’m studying International Development at Sussex Uni. The case study is about why people choose to go into aid work despite the risks, what motivates them to continue and whether they feel able to adapt to life back ‘home’ after their postings. If you have any more blog posts relevant to this, or if you could give me some insight into your previous experience and personal reflections that would be great!! –


  8. Pingback: Breaking News! Aid Workers Burnout! | Mindfulnext

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