Ever wondered what it’s like to be an international aid worker?

14 August 2018

Topics: "aid worker" humanitarian protection staff

“Zeleke and I worked together in 2015 on a project to install latrines at a South Sudanese refugee camp in Ethiopia. Zeleke was great to work with, not least because of his sense of humour.” Credit: Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace
Sharon Edington, Act for Peace’s Protection Programs manager, has lived and worked in some challenging places. She has visited many programs to see firsthand how your generous support is changing life for families around the world. Find out what inspires her (and where in the world to get the best hummus!)

First things first, tell us a bit about your background?

Before I worked at Act for Peace, I had nine years’ experience across different regions including the Middle East, Africa, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Georgia, Chile’s Atacama Desert and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I’ve worked for ActionAid Palestine, CARE International in the Caucasus, and UQ International Development, and have done volunteer work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the British Red Cross and others.

Wow, a colourful history! For those that don’t know what a ‘Protection Programs Manager’ does, tell us about your role and some of the challenges you face.

I work with amazing partners all around the world who face daily challenges, and tough conditions. We work together with the communities we support to help determine what parts of a project to prioritise, and try to tackle any challenges together to ensure that those priority needs are met and that the program runs as smoothly as possible. This can be tough in situations where there is a drought or a conflict!

There are a lot of day to day pressures that our international partners deal with that most of us working in an office in Australia can’t even imagine. Like the doctors and nurses we work with in Gaza, who have lived and worked through bombings and violent outbreaks. Right now they’re challenged with additional power shortages and as little as two to three hours of power a day.

You’ve travelled all over the world, what’s the most interesting place you’ve worked and why?

Israel and Palestine – It is in the news a lot for negative reasons, but it is hard not to fall in love with the place because of the beauty of the area, the links to the faith traditions of so many humans around the world, and the resilience and strength of the Palestinian people under very difficult circumstances (and the great food! Fantastic hummus.)

“The doctors and nurses we support in Gaza continue to inspire me. They work under extremely tough conditions but always strive to ensure vulnerable families can access the medical care they need.” Credit: Ben Littlejohn/Act for Peace

You’ve worked in aid for 12 years now, what gets you up in the morning and how do you stay optimistic in the face of this changing world?

It doesn’t make the news but there are amazing people doing amazing things under very difficult circumstances all around the world every day – people don’t get to read about those stories in the newspaper, but I get to hear them and see the results every day in my job. If people had the chance to hear those stories, I think everyone would feel a lot more optimistic about the world.

On a recent visit to Zimbabwe I was so impressed by communities helping each other and working together, I couldn’t help but think that the rest of the world had so much to learn from them – these are people who have very little themselves who are so generous and giving.

In your own words, what is the impact you have seen supporters in Australia having on the lives of communities around the world?

The communities that Act for Peace supporters help value so much the solidarity of communities in Australia – the feeling that someone is standing with them, walking this difficult road with them, is really invaluable emotionally. The support given provides the leg-up to be self-sufficient, building on the fantastic networks and collective efforts that communities already undertake on their own.

Sometimes the circumstances are so challenging that without some external support it is not possible for people to get that leg-up out of the situation they are in, but once they have that helping hand it makes a huge difference to enjoying their rights to safe, just and dignified lives.

“One of my favourite projects to visit is the Conservation Farming Program in Zimbabwe. Learning how to grow crops, even when the rains fail, is truly life changing for the farming families here.” Credit: Christian Care