28/03/2012 – Twenty-five young people from around Europe have been working hard in 15 different countries to improve their aid-work skills for the past four-and-a-half months. They’ve chosen a career in emergency aid work and over these past few months they have taken their first steps in Africa, Asia or Haiti.
The 25 are part of the European Humanitarian Volunteer Programme, a pilot programme part-funded by ECHO, and managed by Save the Children UK in partnership with the Institut Bioforce Développement and the Network of Humanitarian Assistance (NOHA). The programme identifies and trains young Europeans in preparation for a career in aid work.
These trainees are the first building blocks in the building of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, as mandated by the Lisbon Treaty.
Julia Albert-Recht is the programme’s manager at Save the Children, UK.
She tells me that the pilot project recruited volunteers aged between 25 and 35, often from eastern Europe where the humanitarian sector is less developed. The recruits have just finished the first of two field deployments.
Julia further tells me that in order to prepare the young, relatively inexperienced but highly enthusiastic volunteers for the real deal, the programme puts them through a mix of classroom-based and practical training.
As part of the 12 month programme, the recruits undergo a rigorous blend of theory and scenario-based activities. I caught up with 12 of the volunteers at the tail end of the field training in Kenya.
This section of the field training is designed to build the volunteers’ skills and understanding so that they can implement a first-phase emergency response. None of the scenarios in this simulation are made up; they are all based on real-life experiences.
Diana Tonea is 26. She is from Romania and tells me that the training built into the volunteers’ programme is extremely helpful because aid work often involves complex situations with numerous actors.
She describes her posting in Haiti as thoroughly challenging, especially because of the cultural differences, the unstable security situation, and the wide array of technical issues that she faced. ‘I was working in five different sectors, which was tough, but I gained a lot of technical skills.’
Keely Severn, 32, comes from England. She has found the experience extremely enriching; and not just the training, but also the field deployment. ‘I’ve just come from Sierra Leone where at one time I was speaking with10 aid workers who had almost 100 years of experience between them, spread in about 15 different sectors; that was amazing!’
Anna Misterska, from Poland, tells me that her placement in Zanzibar has greatly boosted her confidence. ‘I had a great mentor and I feel ready to enter the job market as a professional aid worker; definitely at the level of a Programme Officer.’
Julia sees this initiative as a process that will produce entry-level humanitarian aid workers with skills needed to professionalise the aid sector.
The volunteers themselves are now moving to their second deployment.
This programme has the potential to increase coherence in humanitarian aid and also allows young Europeans to express solidarity with those in need worldwide.
By Martin Karimi