That was the reaction from many people when they heard I was planning to move to Liberia to start a new job working in Ebola infection prevention and control for a major international NGO. Some people offered me alternatives (which I also greatly appreciated). Others were very much “Okay, no surprises there.” Most family and friends have expressed their strong support.
But that still doesn’t explain why. My first and foremost reason was that it was a job that needed doing – someone had to go , and I was willing and able to go quickly, with my previous company allowing me to finish with minimal notice. 4 months down the line, I don’t regret giving up my secure – albeit unstable – job as a travelling water engineer to work as a water and sanitation manager at an Ebola treatment unit in the middle of the jungle. Even with the bad days, office politics, Liberian politics, mosquito bites, food so bad I’ve been genuinely concerned about scurvy, long hours and lack of days off, and remoteness of where I’m working, I’m still happy with my decision.
My reasons for changing my job were mainly down to my genuine need for a change in lifestyle (to some extent) – more stability, more personal interactions. and more challenges to drive my professional development. I loved the ethos in my old job, with a management team that understood and cared about the guys in the field. I loved that I frequenly had the opportunity to travel. I loved that I was given a lot of responsibility from day 1. Despite that it was just time for a change – in fact I had needed a change for a while.
Additionally I had wanted to work in international development for a while – I had been selected for interview with DfID (the UK Department for International Development) out of over 4500 applicants as I finished my university studies. I wasn’t successful (200 interviews for a handful of positions on the grad program), but the positive feedback I had recieved gave me a good impression at international development might be a good fit for me. I then deliberately went about trying to get some experience; most of my graduate job hunt was focussed on the water industry (water is going to be one of the major challenges facing mankind this century, along with energy and climate change).
After networking with humanitarian and development professionals while working in England and Asia, I finally got my foot in the door of what is a very hard industry to get into. Those opportunities don’t come around very often (I had already had to turn down an offer to go to the Philippines to work in the recovery from Yolanda on very short notice, due to work commitments), so when I was asked again, I wasn’t going to refuse.
Needless to say, not everyone in this field of work has the same drivers as I do. The job I’m working is surprisingly well paid (otherwise how do you attract the talent to work in a challenging, high risk setting?) – unsurprisingly some people ARE here for the money (whether it be their official salary, perks or in some unfortunate cases, what they can skim ioff by less honest means, especially tyhose from countries where corruption is a common issue). Then again, a friend working at the World Bank tells me my salary is really low (which explains why some colleagues have jumped ship to work for UN agencies who are aparently paid more). Then there’s the prestige, especially for those working in the UN, it’s agencies, and high profile NGOs. Some like the travel and working in a different culture (as you know I tick this box). Others simply can’t exist in normal society and become “reality refugees” (a phrase I heard in Myanmar).
Me, I’m simply here to do a job that needs doing.