How to Become a Humanitarian Aid Worker

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When disaster strikes, war devastates a country or food supplies grow short, humanitarian aid workers are on the front lines providing relief. Even during “normal” times, many countries need help with infrastructure, education or food production. Becoming a humanitarian aid worker can be complicated and time-consuming.

Important Personal Characteristics

  • Certain characteristics are important for humanitarian aid workers, according to an article on the University of Massachusetts website by Matthew Bolton, an experienced aid worker. Among the important characteristics, he says, are integrity and accountability, as aid workers often handle money or valuable commodities. The ability to compromise, adaptability and interpersonal skills such as diplomacy are valuable to aid workers, as conditions might change quickly. Aid workers often live in rough conditions, and must be able to manage without complaining. The ability to adjust to new cultures and learn other languages quickly are also helpful.

Let's Get Practical

  • A good heart and desire to help may inspire you to do humanitarian aid work, but practical skills are vitally important. Someone who is working on water storage, distribution and reclamation, for example, should have education and experience in a field such as hydrology, water resources or construction. Those who work in agriculture should have a degree in that field. A master’s degree is necessary in many areas of the humanitarian aid field, according to an October 2013 article in “Forbes” magazine. Humanitarian relief organizations hire workers in a wide variety of fields, such as engineering, finance, medicine, nutrition, or child development.

The Importance of Experience

  • Breaking into the humanitarian aid field can be difficult, according to “Forbes.” Volunteer work is one way to gain entry, as it helps you establish a track record, build relationships and network with others in the field. Another is to complete an internship -- paid or unpaid -- as part of your education. Although your goal may be field work, you might need to start in the home office of a relief organization. Some people work a regular job in their field and take a temporary leave for disaster work.

Other Preparations

  • In addition to your educational qualifications and experience, you may need to take some extra steps to safeguard your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that aid workers can be exposed to violence, work long hours in stressful situations and may have limited food, water or health options. Self-defense training, physical fitness and careful planning might help mitigate some of these risks. Diseases in some countries are also a potential threat, and immunizations specific to the geographic area are typically required for aid workers.

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  • Photo Credit Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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