Institute Focuses On Work/Life Balance
It’s nearly Christmas and you might be thinking about writing an annual newsletter. When a humanitarian worker sits down to write that newsletter, what comes out can resemble a “brief review of the worst disasters in the world.” In this field it is not uncommon to find humanitarian workers who have spent the majority of their year hopping between projects in places like Afghanistan, Sudan, and Indonesia. Recognizing this, the Institute has recently focused on helping humanitarian workers answer the difficult question, “How do you maintain a sustainable work/life balance when your work means you’re almost constantly in transition?”
Many humanitarian workers thrive on a certain degree of novelty and challenge. However, any lifestyle that involves constant change in work responsibilities, living environment, diet, and social and collegial networks is inherently stressful and will eventually take a toll if consistent efforts are not made to compensate for the pressure. One of the main dangers with this type of schedule is that it encourages a short-term focus on the demands of the next assignment or trip. This can become so ingrained that it becomes difficult to view life as an integrated whole, rather than a series of short-term, intense experiences around the world.
The main take-home message for humanitarian workers is that the pressures of the next assignment will always be there. They must be wary of consistently putting their entire lives on hold to deal with these immediate challenges. They should put some boundaries around the demands of their job and time off. They must find a way to maintain some roots somewhere, or in someone, and nurture important relationships at home.
It is equally important for those who are part of a family or home-based friendship network to make that extra effort to write or call. Pick someone up at the airport. Be an active part of the relationship network at home. Gestures that say “I care and don’t forget about you while you’re away” may be the best holiday gift you can give someone who has spent their year dealing with disaster.
SO FAR THIS YEAR ...
The Headington Institute has:
- Provided more than 200 hours of counseling, debriefing and orientation to humanitarian staff working in crisis situations.
- Conducted 8 training workshops on traumatic stress in the humanitarian field.
- Conducted a debriefing and training in Cape Town, South Africa for relief workers returning from Sudan.
- Conducted a four day workshop on stress management and critical incident care in Nairobi, Kenya.
- Facilitated a retreat in Australia for relief workers returning from the Iran earthquake.
- Published a continuing education module for mental health professionals on assessing and treating humanitarians experiencing acute stress reactions.
- Co-sponsored the conference “Tending the Helper's Fire” at The University of Notre Dame.
- Contributed to the working conference in Amsterdam on “Managing the Stress of Humanitarian Aid Workers.”
ALSO IN THE NEWS ...
- The Institute’s second Peace by Piece series of monthly stress management tips will be published in the new year.
- The Institute’s work was highlighted in a recent article “Church World Service says training, counseling help staff cope with strain of violence” published in InterAction Monday Developments.
FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
In recent months I’ve counseled several humanitarian workers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m impressed by their ability to sustain heroic efforts amidst chaotic, dangerous, and desperate conditions. Most find meaning by helping specific individuals they encounter each day, assisting them in personal, sometimes intimate ways. These individual acts of kindness, encouragement, and support provide inspiration for their efforts to deal with the larger bureaucratic problems of hunger, disease, injury, displacement, and civil unrest involved in their work. A true story illustrates this well: Mother Theresa was asked by a reporter, who had followed as she ministered through the streets of Calcutta one day, “How do you ever hope to be a success in the face of such desperate need?” She paused, thought, and answered, “It never occurred to me to be a success. I’m just trying to be obedient.” In the same way, humanitarian workers are making a difference in some of the most difficult places in the world by helping people, one at a time.
RICK AUGSBURGER GIVEN AWARD
Rick Augsburger, Director of Church World Service’s Emergency Response Program, was given the Headington Institute 2004 Award of Recognition for his 20 years of humanitarian service. Augsburger received the award at the recent Headington Institute Board of Directors Retreat, where he was the keynote speaker.
Church World Service (CWS) is the relief, development and refugee assistance ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations in the U.S. Working in partnership with indigenous organizations in more than 80 countries, CWS works to meet human needs and foster self-reliance. Within the United States, CWS assists communities in responding to disasters, resettles refugees, promotes fair national and international policies and provides educational resources.
Rick Augsburger has been with CWS for 15 years. During this time he has responded to disasters in more than 70 countries, including Ethiopia, Iran and Iraq. Under his leadership, the CWS Emergency Response Program responds to approximately 40-50 emergencies a year – almost one per week!
As he accepted his award, Augsburger reflected on what has changed for humanitarian workers since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “The stress associated with the work has increased significantly,” he said. “Humanitarian workers are becoming direct targets of violence much more frequently. The recent shift towards increased staff care and support provided by helpers like the Headington Institute is the single most important contribution to the humanitarian aid community in the last 25 years.”
STAFF HEAD FOR SOUTH AFRICA
In December the Director of Training and the Director of Counseling are heading to Cape Town, South Africa. There, they will be facilitating a debrief and conducing training on re-entry and work/life balance for a group of humanitarian workers who have spent the last several months responding to the crisis in Sudan.
The Headington Institute is a federally recognized nonprofit corporation with 501.C.3 status. All contributions are fully tax deductible. Please contact us for more information on how to become a partner in this important work.