Lives Of The Saints: International Hardship Duty In Chad

by Jonathan Harr, The New Yorker; January 5, 2009.

This New Yorker piece depicts the challenges of leadership in a field office situated on the eastern frontier of the African nation of Chad. Chad is considered a hardship posting within the ranks of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR.)

The office is situated close to the Dafur border, where nearly two hundred and fifty thousand Sudanese have fled to escape death, mayhem, and ethnic cleansing. The UNHCR works to assist some 33 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide. It is supported by a budget of about US$1.2 billion a year.

According to hardship veterans, a UNHCR posting like this attracts personalities fitting into the “3M’s”: missionaries, misfits, and mercenaries. Leaders in hardship posts must operate far from where commands are created and where circumstances can shift impulsively. They must maintain logistical operations and morale while bracing to quickly evacuate if conditions become too dangerous.

Compounding their daily work is an inordinate amount of reporting requirements: “The agency’s job is to take care of refugees, a task that is full of uncertainty and peril. But it also has to raise money for its operations, supervise its staff, and report to its donors. In the perverse way of bureaucracies, these secondary tasks, less fraught with uncertainty and peril than refugee situations and thus seemingly more manageable, have assumed an importance equal to, and in some instances greater than, the job at hand.”

This commentary on reporting requirements — so clearly arduous given the reality of a hardship context — may also relate to by those comfortably working within organisations far from the frontline.

For the complete article see: reporting/2009/01/05/090105fa_fact_harr

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