My experience working in Oxfam International this summer was truly invaluable. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to experience working in the humanitarian/non-profit world from within a large-scale international organization, which differed enormously from my previous experiences working with small local NGOs. Often, we only see the work humanitarian organizations do on the field, but fail to take into account the long, extensive and complex process that takes place behind the scenes to make a particular project possible.
Being given a research project to conduct entirely on my own, I was exposed to a large array of structural/organizational processes that are indispensable for a project to be implemented. Until then, I had only worked on the implementation stage of humanitarian work: being on the field, working directly with people. But for staff on the field to be able to do their work, a vast administrative structure must prepare everything beforehand. This is the work that is not visible from the outside: the hours behind a computer in an office, researching, drafting project proposals, competing for scarce grants, budgeting, stretching the most out of minimal available resources, taking care of finances, making ends meet, countless phone calls, meetings, preparation of all large-scale and small scale logistics, filling out forms, scheduling site-visits, improvising when unexpected things push you off the plan… an incredibly laborious, time-consuming and hard task that is fundamental for any organization to implement its work – and is not nearly given as much credit as it deserves.
I was able to appreciate this fundamental side of the humanitarian world, one that I had not been exposed to thus far. I would advise anyone that is interested in working in the humanitarian field to explore the administrative/logistical part of this world before they immerse themselves in it. That is, I think it is very important (as with any other industry or job) to find out how things really work inside in order to avoid being shocked/discouraged once you get there and find out that it is not what you thought it would be. We tend to romanticize humanitarian work, thinking it is all beautiful, fulfilling, and that you’ll be working directly with people every day. But reality is that the every-day life of this field requires as much administration and logistical preparation as any other industry.
For me, realizing this over the summer has helped me greatly with my career exploration – helping me clarify what it is I’d like to do after Brandeis, and where I would like my professional path to go. It has helped me see that the world of “social justice,” as noble, rewarding, indispensable and beautiful as it certainly is, has an enormous amount of aspects and necessary levels in order to make the “whole” possible – and contrary to general perception, working directly on the field is just a small part of it. The rest of the work is equally as necessary, and just because you’re not on the field does not mean your job is less meaningful.
I’ve learned so much from my experience interning with Oxfam International, and grown enormously as someone who is about to enter her professional life. The work they do is simply amazing, and having had a glimpse of their inner workings has further reinforced my desire and conviction to build my professional career in this field. Working with hurricane refugees, talking to their communities, and conducting an entire social research project in only 8 weeks was an intense, gratifying and incredibly educational experience.