While humanitarian work is often portrayed as “Westerners” coming to provide aid, it’s often “local” people who do a big part of the important field work. This is because they understand the context better.
Here are three young women who are inspiring us with their humanitarian work. While working with Oxfam, they sometimes spend weeks working in remote areas to ensure aid is provided to vulnerable communities and families.
In this interview, we learn more about Oxfam’s humanitarian superwomen who are working hard on the field to bring impact to their societies.
Tell us about your job
Umulkhair: I am currently a Food Security Officer working for Oxfam in Somaliland. I love my job because besides delivering food and creating livelihoods to people in need, I get to change the way communities view Muslim Somali women.
Gloria: My first ambition was to become a doctor but I instead became a water and sanitation engineer. As a WASH coordinator for the Burundi Refugee Response Program in Tanzania, my work includes conducting topographical surveys in villages.
I also design and supervise the construction of water supply systems to ensure that people don’t get sick from sanitary issues. Finally, I am a leading advocate for HIV/AIDS and women’s rights in my community.
Aimeline: I joined Oxfam in 2011 and have since been working as a Public Health Engineer assistant in South Kivu, DRC. I was inspired to join the humanitarian field so that I could save lives and make a difference in people’s lives. For the last 5 years, I’ve made an impact on building springs and waste latrines for communities.
As a local NGO worker,what makes you special?
Umulkhair: Despite all the challenges the country is facing, my work at Oxfam provides me with a platform to give hope to people in need. We try to show people that both the local and international NGO world is aware of their suffering and are trying the best to provide relief.
Gloria: It feels different and great to show your own people that it’s possible to make a real difference. More than that, I feel that as a Tanzanian and Swahili speaker, I can relate better to the problems for the host communities.
Have you faced any challenges in the humanitarian field?
Umulkhair: One challenge I’ve faced is the pastoralists lack of support and confidence for young women. However, though they often believe women should lead men when they see our achievements, they apologize for their judgment.
Gloria: I also encountered difficulties leading men as a young female engineer. Many times, it felt as though I was trying to prove myself. Luckily, I had support from Oxfam which places gender equality at the center.
Aimeline: Working in sensitive areas has been difficult. One of these difficulties I faced is the fear of the unpredictable. Recently, in my current zone of intervention, the Tanganyika region, there were ethnic conflicts leading to the displacement of nearly 600,000 people. Safety is always a concern.
What is it like spending significant time away from home?
Umulkhair: As a young, Somali woman, it was difficult to enter the humanitarian field because we often spend many days away from our families in remote areas. Though my father supported me, other family members were critical of this lifestyle.
Gloria: It has been tough to see all family members together and you are the only one away. But knowing that I need to support our communities with food insecurities and emergencies has helped me persevere.
How has this job shaped and inspired you?
Umulkhair: This job built my self-confidence and made me have a positive impact on people’s lives. Dealing with communities who don’t have confidence in young women has also made me more mature.
I also get very inspired by the people I meet on the field. Recently, I met two divorced women who had children but no source of income. After participating in an Oxfam training and receiving a start-up kit, they started their own shop. This helped them send their children to school.
Aimeline: A few victories here and there have truly inspired me to keep going. One of my first victories was when I mastered the operation of the gravity water supply and motor adduction. I had also learned how to build latrines that improved the protection of people against waterborne diseases such as Cholera or Typhoid fever.
Any advice for young women wanting to work with NGO’s?
Gloria: Working with these organizations starts with getting good grades. However, it’s important to work hard and deliver the best. You should also try and find support or guidance from women in the NGO-sector. Because of the gender imbalance in many African societies, it’s important that we support each other as women.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.