Tips to student on preparing for and getting first job in humanitarian, relief and development field

(C) InterNews

Earlier this week, I was flattered when my (former)university student sent me an email inquiring how ‘to get my foot into your field’. It was then that I started looking back at where everything started. I have neither a Brad Pitt nor a Dlamini Zuma experience but at the very least, my small eyes have seen 1 or 2 steps.

Sure as the sun and the moon  hell, there are your peers who broke into this field by sheer luck or well, their daddy’s grand daddy fought for peace with the great grand daddy of the CEO of an organization, but many of you, including myself have had to do it from scratch. In my most trusted opinion, the best and most reliable way to break into this field is to get lots of scary experiences. What do I mean to say? 😉

Make the humanitarian field personal

In 1998, my dad was involved in a road traffic crash and the psychological, economic and social toll this incident had on me and my family was too much to take for a then 11 year old. So, when I came to learn that the Red Cross provides first aid and road safety training while at my secondary school, I instantly knew, I could help afew colleagues like myself. To cut the story short, I happily drowned in their work and formally worked for the Uganda Red Cross First Aid and Road Safety Programme before retiring under some special reasons 🙂

Have a specific suggestion for the Organization

Once, my supervisor asked me to meet afew students on his behalf and I asked them “What do you really want to do here?” Ofcourse I had made a presentation about who the organization is, and what we do, the challenges we face. Only 2 students asked if they could help to improve the quality of the photos and videos I had showed them during the presentation. To cut the story short, one is the organization’s communications manager, the other is the M&E officer for another institution. Most students don’t have the slightest of the innovation and all they want is, well, I don’t know.

Be focusedly persistent

We have all heard about how terribly hard it is for students and young graduates to be allowed for an internship in a humanitarian organization. The spaces are as limited as finding honest politician and a virgin sex worker. 😀 But, let me state that you need to be focused and I promise you, you’ll be rejected, + under looked. You will be told to wait for eternity:-some how, these become good experiences as my former colleague Patrick can tell you. One day, I went to a certain NGO to discover what they do, and the receptionist rudely asked me ‘Are you an FBI agent? I smiled at her wryly as inside my heart head, I was like ‘Lady, you are lucky to be talking to the Next WHO Director General. Remember that!” . So, when the corporate day came, I asked the NGO If I could voluntarily play soccer and volleyball for them as they didn’t have enough staff:-To cut the story short, I was selected on a Peer Education Programme in Ndola Zambia.

Don’t forget the small person

The humanitarian field is very strange. Sometimes, the gatekeeper knows and is willing to share more info than the Programme Manager. Once, I calmly greeted and asked a gate keeper how he is and his family. He gave me a seat and chilled for around 19 minutes with this 50 something aged man. I came to learn that he’s a Gunner, worked for UNDP as a driver until he got injured and retired early. Dude, did this guy know and lead me to alotta people! We shared numbers and boy, he’s my man everytime I come to his town. He drinks a coca cola alone! (Sadly)

Have a stay calm flexible attitude

There’re these students who bomb themselves around because they are from ‘Prestigious Universities’:-man, I don’t even know what this is anymore. They speak urban slang English:-If you know what I mean and belittle everyone. FYI, dude, nobody gives a shit about your University in this field. People are interested in what you can do! In 2005, during the Bird Flue outbreaks in South Western Uganda, a certain type of students didn’t want to serve in such areas seemingly dirty and suited for the ‘local’ students. One of those is writing this article now. I have come to learn that working in scary harsh places helps you to learn more, have more respect and credibility than people who are relaxing in the comfort zones. I think every student should be open to whatever job is given to them in this field. For example, my first assignment at the African Union Commission was to ensure emergency health training tools and equipment, training venues were in place. But, that was when Ebola came to West Africa. Guess what happened? This field changes way toooooo first!


If you are volunteering, this is the hardest decision of your life. While your peers will be buying the latest Jordans, Nikes and Sam Sung S7s, you will most probably be stuck in a field Weinbrenner shoe (if you’re lucky), living in perhaps the remotest of all, with literally ‘No Life’. You’re most likely going to rent your own accommodation, cook your own meals, miss the English Premier league and pay for your own transport costs. From my experience, you might want to first visit your family/ friends and assure them of what you are going to do. They could be of help in one way or the other. Transparency is key here. But make no mistake, the experience of living and smiling despite all these challenges can’t be quantifiable into monetary terms. I once lived in a place (wont mention the name), where I’d to tell a friend to teach me how to read the money notes:-Incredible

Learn a language, new short course, do something!

I don’t mean that you should kill a man in an attempt to do something (that happens in the movies), but most often, I ask students, “ what languages do you speak”? I’m surprised that when they go for holidays, they eat, sleep get fat, club or just get laid. They haven’t even taught themselves the basics of some languages different from English and mother tongue. Jesus! Fix this! The humanitarian field will most likely..and sure it will take you out of sight of your mummy, to certainly not England…so, get ready for that! Learn and read about M&E not Kim Kardashian, listen to Bill Gates interviews (Not Beyonce’s Lemonade all the time), watch CNN, BBC, National Geographic Channels (Not Bruce Jenna!) Damn it! Attend conferences and take your cat out for a walk!

Hoping this is helpful. Cheers


12 thoughts on “Tips to student on preparing for and getting first job in humanitarian, relief and development field

Add yours

      1. thanks a lot Brother and am gladly going to share this Artical with every one in my reach and you have always kept me moving even when i feel like breaking down you have encouraged me to take the next step.
        You are my Hero

  1. This is indeed helpful for us who want to get deep into the humanitarian work. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks Brian yo my model till I do PhD and am looking forward to road safety campaigns!
    Thanks for the tips……we will be there soon…..yo our inspirational simple and approachable lecture…

    1. Happy to learn you’re interested in a PhD. The thing is, if you want it, then you will get it and ofcourse if your dreams dont scare you, they are not good enough. So, go for it. Thank you again and stay in touch 😉

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