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What’s it like to be a humanitarian?

Adventure, unpredictability and fulfillment: three words that I think sum up my career as a humanitarian so far.

It’s a job that is challenging but rewarding.

Being a humanitarian means making sure that the people most affected by a disaster or crisis have what they need to be healthy, happy and resilient.

I’ve had the privilege to work with some phenomenal people from all over the world and live in some incredible places.

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Becoming a humanitarian wasn’t my plan

I didn’t plan to become a humanitarian – all I knew was that I wanted to help people in some way.

When I was leaving school and choosing a degree, I picked subjects that interested me most. It just so happened that I had an interest in people: understanding and working with them.

I’m originally from Australia, where I studied public health and social sciences at university. During that time that I started working for a charity doing admin. Before I knew it, I was building and leading community work in remote Aboriginal communities.

After that I moved to another job, but in my spare time I kept volunteering for a small, grass-roots organisation, focused on strengthening a village in eastern Uganda after a school fire.

This inspired me to begin a Masters in International Health and go to Uganda.

Leaving home and travelling the world

I had never intended to leave Australia.

But in 2012, I decided to sell and give away all my worldly possessions and head out to work in a development position in Uganda.

Over the next four years, I ended up living in different countries around east and southern Africa.

I worked with communities on both developmental (longer term plans to build stronger, more resilient populations) and humanitarian response programmes (quick responses to a disaster or crisis).

Whilst I gave up my comfortable life in Australia, with the wonders of constant electricity and water, I’m so glad I did it.


humanitarian Channel Corena on BBC
Chanelle Corena appears on BBC Arabic

Working  with school children in Ethiopia

One of my first roles was as a Country Coordinator for Ethiopia, where I worked with incredible colleagues.

One of our projects looked at making it easier for children to attend school.

We provided them with school kits (pens, books, school uniforms) and trained their teachers to provide educational and psychosocial support.

Refugee centres in Uganda

The next year, I worked on the border between South Sudan and Uganda.

My work was based out of the reception centres for refugees. I led the development of a strategy to help refugees fleeing their unstable home nations.

We needed to think about all their needs: health, food, water, education. I worked closely with the UN and other organisations to provide assistance.

Flooding in Malawi

In early 2015 floods devastated Malawi and I led the response to provide relief to people affected. I worked to make sure people who lost their homes had access to clean water, shelter and simple but vital things, like toothpaste, sanitary products and soap.

There, I created a plan of action to meet the needs of the communities, working in partnership with the communities themselves.

Then, I travelleled to a remote village with my amazing national counterparts to deliver food or working alongside other organisations to ensure people had drinking water.

I was also part of conversations with governments to make sure that the voice of those affected by the disaster was being heard.

No day is the same

No matter what stage or setting, being a humanitarian has taught me a lot about myself and others: both vulnerability and resilience.

In this career, I have gained so much life experience and a network of incredibly talented friends and colleagues around the world.

But, most importantly, I’ve been able to contribute to helping the most vulnerable people across the world.

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