Despite what you might have read in the media over the last few days, going to work in an emergency situation like the current famine in the Horn of Africa is more than just a plane ticket and some jabs.
For a number of reasons aid workers and other international staff working in these areas are at risk from all sorts of threats. Unfamiliarity with the culture, geography and ‘tunnel vision’ by focusing on the programme increases the vulnerability. Good agencies have a robust security management process to address this and reduce the likelihood of something occurring to their staff, both local and international. One element in this is training for international staff before they leave their ‘home’ country.
RedRUK is a charity based in the UK that specialises in training for the humanitarian sector. They train on logistics, water & sanitation and security among other things. I did their Personal Safety and Security in Emergencies course a few years ago and found it an eye opener, both in what it taught me but also what it showed me about myself and how I react.
Most of the course is classroom based working on the skills and systems you need to keep yourself and others safe. The last full day is a simulation where you are ‘deployed’ to a fictional country and get to practice some of the skills you have learned and experience some of the things that might occur.
This simulation is made possible by a number of volunteers who act various roles to try and make the experience as realistic yet safe as possible. Since doing the course myself, I’ve volunteered as an actor for 5 of these and always find it so rewarding giving the participants the ‘best’ experience I can. It’s a funny mix of fancy dress, training and improvisation.
Each scenario within the simulation has a loose ‘plot’ and a time scale but as we have to react to the actions of the participants, it gets interesting. Some of the scenarios involve full on ‘ranty’ acting that are great fun (drunk militia men) and others require a more measured approach (Serious formal checkpoint) but it all adds up to a rewarding if tiring day.
My disability means that I may never be able to use my skills in a frontline aid situation but by supporting the education of those who are going to work in dangerous places I feel I’m doing my bit to help the wider world. Also, if I’m honest, it’s great fun too.