For the first of our new regular interviews we spoke with Diana Hiscock. Diana has been working in the humanitarian sector in both the emergency and development field for over 30 years, having a focus on programme management and development, technical support and training, especially in the field of disability and migration.
We asked what the issues were when employing individuals who are experienced in their field but not in international work. What followed was an interesting perspective suggesting that it all hinged on more than just technical competency.
“Obviously we hire in people who have got exceptional skill but hopefully they have will have a view of ‘capacity building’ or ‘will to train’, rather than just giving a direct service. And if they don’t show that, it’s really hard for a person to be put in that situation where they find it very difficult to adapt.”
This recognition, that volunteering one’s time or working abroad makes one both a disability AND development worker is vital. Whatever actions are taken, when working abroad, will have a lasting impact and so those actions need to be based on communication and cooperation with the people one is working with. Diana believes that being able to be both a disability and development worker requires both a certain personality and a professionalism that will help overcome some of the more difficult aspects of living abroad.
“There’s lots of different issues really on the level of just living in a different environment, different housing, different lifestyle, a lack of services they expect to live with, not being able to cope with creepy crawlies. All these things people get really squeamish about and that can break down the work, because it becomes more important to be able to cope with the living conditions outside of work than actually doing the work. So you have to look at their personality. You need to see how they interact with you, and see if they feel they are already concerned about ‘coping’. You have to have thought about it and considered ‘If I do get in a difficult situation, what am I going to do?”
This can be a serious problem when volunteering abroad. If a person is not able to cope with the personal aspects, it detrimentally affects their approach to the work.
Diana said that “The biggest thing you see is people looking down on the people they’re working with and that’s really a bad way to go. The first rule is you go in with an open mind. It is cooperation and communication, if you don’t start that way you have already failed. We are going to share skills and the game is to find where we are useful. ‘How can we see where to work together to make it useful and meaningful to the person you’re working with?’ I mean that’s the key eh?”
We discussed possible ways that people can prepare themselves better for international work. Diana suggested gaining work experience in one’s own country within a multicultural population. It was also agreed that general volunteering for periods of several months overseas is a very good way to start.
We at MAITS also believe that this is the key and we encourage anyone who believes that have what it takes, personally and professionally, to register with MAITS.