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52 signs you shouldn’t become an aid worker

52 signs you shouldn’t become an aid worker

  1. Your picture is on Humanitarians of Tinder.
  2. Your blog is filled with photos of children of different ethnicities.
  3. Nicholas Kristof is your favourite journalist.
  4. You take photos of children in refugee camps and then post them on Facebook with the caption “So much cuteness!”
  5. You’ve read Geldof in Africa at least 3 times.

Bob Geldof with children.
Bob Geldof in Ethiopia in 1985. Photo from: Rex Features Rex.
  1. You just can’t believe that poor people who have nothing can laugh, create music, hold ceremonies or have culture of any kind.
  2. You keep talking about how passionate you are and how you want to make a difference.
  3. Your response to logistical and program dilemmas is “WWJD?”
  4. You’re getting ready for a  volunteer trip that has matching T-shirts.
  5. You call the person who interviewed you every other day to follow up, because your mom says it’ll show them you’re persistent.
  6. You’re starting your own NGO.
  7. You just want to be Meryl Streep in Out of Africa.
  8. Or Angelina Jolie in Beyond Borders.

  1. You’ve been telling friends and family that Africa has always been calling you.
  2. You don’t drink.
  3. You think the solution to refugees and displaced peoples is to create a new nation.
  4. You also think creating a new nation to make your daughter a princess is totally reasonable.
  5. You believe innovation is the way forward.
  6. Disaster response gives you that tingling feeling downstairs.
  7. You think you’d look cool in some traditional African clothing.
  8. All your other clothes are cargo pants and fishing vests.
  9. You think Africa is a country.
  10. You’re sure the Central African Republic is not a real country.
  11. You know you’ll never became jaded and cynical like those experienced aid workers.
  12. You loved KONY2012.
  13. You want to volunteer overseas to “find yourself.”
  14. You’ve given away your old crap because, you know, poor people need anything they can get.
  15. Your favourite book about aid is Emergency Sex.
  16. Your idea of aid work is passing out candy and toys to cute children.
  17. You swear you’ll never date a co-worker.
  18. You went to Haiti or Nepal right after the earthquake without a job.
  19. You’re dedicated to “working yourself out of a job.”
  20. Once a year, you walk around barefoot to raise awareness of shoelessness.
Sign reading "Go without shoes so kids don't have to!"
Sign for TOMS’ “One day without shoes” campaign. Photo from Lower Columbia College.
  1. You don’t live in Nairobi–you’re just based there.
  2. You’ve ever donated an old bra or pair of socks or underwear.
  3. Or made a dress out of a pillowcase and sent it to Africa.
  4. You tend to follow all the rules.
  5. You think all expats are equal. (They’re not. Aid workers are better.)
  6. You think it’s adorable how everything stops when white people visit a local school.
  7. You believe the staff at HQ actually know what’s going on.
  8. You consider yourself the voice of the voiceless.
  9. You proclaim an obsession with things you have no connection to–certain countries, NGOs, social issues.
  10. You have no preference between Sachs and Easterly.
  11. You think randomised controlled trials are a way to figure out what works in development.
  12. You think aid workers are “just such nice people.”
  13. You only wear TOMS.
  14. You’re there to empower the people.
  15. You really hope a villager you met will name their child after you.
  16. You’re willing to speak up when your per diem is just too high.
  17. You don’t know what guava leaves are used for.
  18. You want to give people a hand-up–because they are unable to stand for themselves.
  19. You don’t read WhyDev very often.

Featured image shows sign #53: nails painted with TOMS logos. Photo by Elizabeth Hudy.

Before he left for greener pastures, Laurie Phillips contributed to this post. 

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WhyDev Team

The WhyDev writing team consists of Brendan, Megan, Zoe and Clemency. Check out more about the team on the "About Us" page.

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7 thoughts on “52 signs you shouldn’t become an aid worker

  1. Edgar

    Lets just say, the proof of the pudding…. read Thomas Cook’s expose on tourism and you know what you are up against.

  2. Daniel

    I’d love to hear the Nicholas Kristof is your favorite journalist point explained. I don’t necessarily disagree with it but I’m curious as to the author’s thought process on that one.

    1. His writing on aid and development issues often lacks nuance, understanding and evidence. A number of example columns come to mind that other’s have addressed – / He is really good at raises awareness, but when it comes to issues such as sex work, he crosses the line – Plus, there are better journalists who cover development in my opinion. See, Jina Moore for example.

  3. After nearly five years in Haiti this seems like the qualities I saw in, except for an amazing few, most aid workers/missions trippers/development geeks I saw. You did forget getting 3-5 opinions on whether it’s safe to touch, play with or hold the children (they had heard how rampant AIDS, malaria, etc… were), the attitude that they needed to “fix” the people and get them to come around to a proper way of thinking and that soon they would be returning to the “real” world, after spending a full one weeks there (spelling error intentional) and tell their peeps the real deal.

  4. Brendan Tronconi

    I winced a few times, but this mostly made me want to see a reading list or guide for these naive, over enthusiastic optimists.

    Educate them, train them and then put them to work. Otherwise they end up at Tom’s or as you said, start their own charity.

  5. Sean Cox

    C’mon guys, stop trolling. 52? Kind of a stretch. Half of it rang true and the other half is pretty much verbatim from the “stuff expat aid workers like” website i.e. A good description of pretty much every development worker.

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