Reader Question: What Draws You to Overseas Work?

From Olga: What draws you to this work? Is it a job for you or a calling? How to you insure that you are in fact working and living in solidarity with the poor you serve when you often come from a more privileged background as an international aid worker? What steps do you take to minimize the power differential that must exist?

Olga. This is a great question.
I grew up poor. But when you’re living it, it seems normal. And compared to the people I see now, my life was a luxurious cake walk. That’s part of the reason I work for CRS; I can kind of identify what they’re going through.

I’m the regional information officer in West Africa. I used to work as a journalist for American newspapers. But I was tired of fighting editors, trying to convince them to let me write stories about something other than politics, conflict or problems. I usually had little choice. I would send these stories off, never knowing if anyone actually acted on them. With CRS, I know people care and help the people I’m writing about.

I try to spend as much time with the people I’m interviewing (I’m the regional information officer) as possible. I eat what they eat. I help them with chores if they’ll let me. I play with their kids. I eat dinner with the CRS local staff (usually the drivers who aren’t paid nearly as much as we are). They try to save as much their per diem as possible. This usually means street food. But that’s ok. You can usually find chicken and rice and a warm Fanta somewhere.

I think spending time with people, listening to them – really listening to them – letting them ask you questions, is a great way to break down the power differential.

Thanks for your question,
Lane Hartill, CRS West Africa

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