The Communicator as Humanitarian
Cecil Laguardia, Communications Coordinator, Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Whether it's strong typhoons, large movements of refugees or strong earthquakes - disasters are becoming increasingly complex and we need to be more prepared than ever in how we respond. No matter how small our contribution, we are in the business of saving lives, and this requires a special mixture of ability, resilience and endurance.
From the Asian Boxing Day tsunami and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, to the Syrian refugee crisis and Nepal’s recent earthquake, I could say I have covered some of World Vision’s most challenging emergency work.
My experience might pale in comparison to some of World Vision’s more seasoned aid workers – those who travel in the field non-stop, from one situation to another, ensuring they are at the epicentre when disaster strikes and where needs are greatest. But I dare say the requirements of each of us are the same; to the ability to quickly adapt to the need and the context, work hard at the task we've been given, rise up to the challenges posed by tough working conditions and to have the resilience to deal with any emotional consequences once the job is done.
I'm thankful that, as a Communicator, I get the opportunity to put my experiences into words, stories, videos and other forms of expression. I get to take the stories of pain and the need for hope that people on the ground are experiencing and distill them so that supporters around the world will understand the situation and act. Yes, do something!
I often feel as though my words are drowned out in a world too tired of relentless news and depressing stories to react. The cycle has become so normal that people, whilst not being indifferent, are just too swamped to know where to place their care.
So what have I learnt during my time working as a humanitarian? Where to begin? Well, top of the list would be to work with local people to fully understand the context. Talk to people, read, connect, forget biases and adapt. It's important not to come into a situation with prior assumptions - even if you have decades of emergency experience behind you. Most of your effectiveness will boil down to how you can adapt and get people to work with you.
Next on my long list would be to try and draw inspiration from your circumstances - then the rest should be easy. You get this by working hard and getting enjoyment and satisfaction from the work you are doing. It should then show in anything you do and hopefully inspire the people around you. I still remember how my team during our Haiyan Typhoon Response faced the non-stop media demand with sleep-deprived eyes but with a determined smile on our faces. If any setbacks occurred, we felt resilient enough to pick up the pieces very quickly. Our high energy and drive to do the job well was also something we were able to give to the typhoon survivors and the relief teams who were working round-the-clock. That’s teamwork running in full gear!
Understanding how the relief and recovery periods work is also key. This is the only way to complement the work of our hardworking relief workers running things on the ground and to be able to share what is going on with a wider audience. As a Communicator, you are as much their mouthpiece as the survivors who have been through a disaster and lost everything. You need to get it right - and do it right. Along the way you will realise that there are so many things you need to learn that aren’t found in the textbooks. You learn them by being right where the relief workers are - in the field.
Last but not least - love your work. It is an experience not many people are blessed with. By loving what you do, you spread hope - always the one thing that matters to people as they start picking up the pieces and living their lives again.