The many miles of an aid work career

Below is a fantastic guest blog from Geneva Pritchard discussing the challenges of moving with your international aid career.

Geneva Pritchard is a dedicated and enthusiastic member of the International aid community.  Her aid career began in 2002 when she worked on a gender, water and sanitation project with CARE International in rural Nicaragua.  In the years following she spent the majority of her time living and working with the refugee population on the Thailand-Myanmar border.  Geneva has worked on a wide range of aid projects in South East Asia including emergency needs assessment among refugee populations, sustainable agriculture programs, treatment for and prevention of drug-resistant malaria among mobile populations, and advocacy work to influence health and education policy.

Geneva uses innovative methods to transition emergency programs to sustainable, community-led solutions and highlights the importance of partnership in all of her projects.   She recently obtained her Masters in Public Health through the School of Global Studies at Thammasat University, Bangkok.   Currently Geneva lives Melbourne, Australia with her husband where she is an International Aid consultant.

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I have recently moved location again. I have moved to my fourth, yes fourth, location in less than two years.

Upon sharing the news with friends and family back home of this last planned move, I was greeted with responses such as “I don’t know how you do it”, “I don’t envy all that moving!”, and “but when are you moving HOME?”.

My once enthusiastic-intentioned call turned into justification to others for my chosen lifestyle as an International Aid worker who is often required to change geographic locations.  Over the course of a couple days I hung up from phone calls feeling defeated and misunderstood by others, and even by myself.  Refusing to be shrouded in doubt about my lifestyle, or worse, be sucked into comparing myself to the lives of others, I found a safe and comfortable place to meditate.  Using the power of my breath, I centred my spirit and came to the powerful realisation that if I compare myself to the person I have always imagined myself to be, I am right on track. I live a life that is completely different from my family members and nearly all of my friends, and sometimes that makes me feel weird and different, but it makes me feel so….me.

I have covered many miles, and laid my head to rest on too many pillows to even count.  I have not, however, taken time to reflect on moments where I feel at home, or at peace, in the midst of so much travel.  In preparation for this upcoming move, I have put together the top 5 things that “ground” me in a seemingly endless life of motion:

1)     Breath and movement.  Yoga brings me back to my breath, and helps me connect my body to my new physical space.   My yoga mat travels everywhere with me, and when it rolls out onto the floor I feel a sense of home.

2)     Nourishing my body.  Cooking calms my spirit and can even be a meditative process for me.   The first meal I cook in a new place creates smells and senses that flood me with comfort and satisfaction.

3)     Harnessing my creative spirit.  Painting enlivens a part of me that too often gets pushed to the back burner.   When I create a painting I feel a sense of pride, accomplishment and balance in my life.   I use the lotus flower as a theme throughout most of my paintings so in whatever country my brushes stroke the canvas I have a familiar symbol to accompany me.

4)     Wander and wonder.  Throw that to do list out the window and allow myself time to wander the new streets, smile at strangers, and feel gratitude for new opportunities.  When I take to the streets with a journal in hand and $10 in my pocket for a spontaneous red wine stop I feel giddy and alive.   Whether I am wandering the dirt roads of rural Burma, or the back alley ways of Melbourne, the feeling of wandering and wondering makes my heart beat just a bit faster and I can’t help the silly grin that always takes over my face when I allow time to just stroll around.

5)     Be still, and still be here.  This is a mantra that my favourite yoga teacher often shares in class and it often comes to mind during transition times.  It is okay to feel overwhelmed and at times exhausted by transition.  It is okay to not move, cook, create or wonder and just be still, nap, read, meditate.    Remember that life is made up of a series of moments, and taking time to ask yourself what you want from this moment, is a good way to not get overwhelmed with the grand scheme of transition.

In a new place I experience moments of joy and days of sorrow.  There are days where I am enriched and enthused by the newness, and days where I am bogged down by the unfamiliarity and additional challenges that accompany a new place.

Listening to and respecting each emotion that enters without judgement is a daily practice, and something that does not always come naturally.  Love yourself, and listen to yourself, through all the cycles of transition.  Reach out to other women who live similar lives, and know that around a table of like-minded souls you too shall feel at home and encouraged to go forth with this wild journey as an International Aid Worker.

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3 Responses to The many miles of an aid work career

  1. Thanks for this Geneva. I think I am on a different end of the scale. I thought I would end up travelling a lot with this work, and I do regionally, but I have now been based in Cambodia for almost three years, which feels like a long time. I find the idea of moving every 6 or 12 months very tiring as it takes so long to get grounded and meet people. I am looking forward to meeting other peoples thoughts on how they have coped with this.

  2. Zehra says:

    Love this piece, Geneva. For me number 5 is huge. I frame it a bit differently though. For me, as someone who is in transition a lot, I like to BE HERE. Wherever here is at that time. For someone who embraces but finds change very disruptive, this is important for me and it’s a real coping mechanism to not always feel like i’m no where but rather, that wherever I am, I am in fact, there. It’s taken some time to stop feeling like everything is transition all the time. Another thing I do (that leads from the BE HERE rule I have) is to set up home immediately. And it’s simple things for me. Pictures of family in frames which i carry with me, some spices that I know I will want and use and my teddy bear. If I have these things, I have home.

    Great piece. Thanks so much for writing and sharing.

  3. KLBoothe says:

    Nice post, Geneva,
    For me I also try to “give back” beyond what I think I contribute with my work. I engage in small acts of kindness by giving a woman a 50 dollar bill. I donate to a local cause. I write letters of recommendations to well-deserving colleagues, I shop locally and don’t over-bargain..if it’s a price i am happy with, I don’t concern myself with what the “local price” ought to be. I am not worried about driving up the market by simply paying what I think is a fair price for arts/crafts. I tip! I engage in meaningful conversation and foster friendships that are meaningful. I try to get outside of the “expat” bubble whenever possible for more authentic experiences. I find giving to others is as important to my “self care” as anything else. I rely on technology to keep my marriage vibrant when we are not together, and my friendships intact. I have to say this however, the more years i do this work, the less i am able to adjust back home in the U.S….what I do is not often shared by friends..so I also work hard to keep my international friendships very much alive!

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