Monday, 8 December 2014

Being the hummingbird's wings

Running to stand still

She runs through the streets
With eyes painted red
Under a black belly of cloud in the rain
In through a doorway she brings me
White gold and pearls stolen from the sea
She is raging
She is raging
And the storm blows up in her eyes
She will
Suffer the needle chill
She's running to stand
The hamster wheel of life

Are you on a field mission where you are working frantically around the clock, fulfilling several roles or jobs all at once because there just aren’t enough bodies on the ground to help you set up an emergency response?  Or help you try out new projects or even maintain your already-existing projects in your ever-expanding response programme?  Do you feel like you are caught up in the hamster wheel of life, constantly running to stand still?

Well, you are not alone. It's an all-too-common situation for many of us humanitarian aidworkers when we have been released into the wild, our natural habitat (i.e. the field) or when we are held captive (apparently against our will) by our superiors in a head office environment.

There are several analogies out there to describe this and I will give you three of them. I wonder which one you identify with the most?

Hats off to you

Some  people call it double, triple or quadruple -hatting, which can affect the quality of leadership in senior humanitarian positions, (mentioned in this ICVA survey 2014 here.)  I find this analogy slightly strange because I’ve never actually worn several hats while doing emergency response, have you? I mean one has to travel light, and it could be quite uncomfortable wearing several garments at once, never mind looking decidedly odd.  Mind you I have seen plenty of aidworkers who do wear hats, especially those who have a penchant for wearing baseball hats…I mean really, what is that all about? You are not playing baseball, it is not a game, you are not even able to reach first base if you aren’t able to set up your emergency response quickly and effectively and save those lives are you? Neither are you a hip hop artist, or, dare I utter the immortal words Justin Bieber.

However, I do remember wearing a sun hat occasionally. Yes, I think sun hats probably qualify for aid worker gear in an arid zone or tropical environment when the sun beats down on your head and the back of your neck, while you are waiting for a delivery to come to an airstrip or you are trekking for miles in the mid-day sun doing an emergency assessment. I prefer buff hats myself, see an earlier post on the subject here. They really are quite versatile and they don’t look like your average safari hat as if you are some kind of tourist going into a disaster zone. Anyway I digress...

Well that was on hats and you might ponder the significance of hat-wearing in emergency response. However, on a related subject "Six Thinking Hats" could be a useful tool for you and your team.

Edward de Bono devised it and is a form of lateral thinking. It is a creative way of getting your team to work more effectively together by thinking in different ways to problem solve.

Swan lake

The second analogy is that well-known image of a graceful, beautiful swan gliding effortlessly across a lake or a river, hardly disturbing the surface of the water. Meanwhile, under the water, its little legs are going nineteen to the dozen to propel the swan along.

We don’t really see that level of frenetic activity when we are above the water but say if you are a newt, a frog or a fish, then you might just notice those webbed feet constantly kicking out! Well anyway that’s what I think aid workers are like (no, I don't mean pondlife), constantly and frenetically paddling. You can never be ahead of the game, you are always trying to catch up. There are always more needs than you can meet and more demands placed on you, from the organisation you are working for or from the beneficiary community you are working with. On top of that there are increasing pressures from other agencies and coordination structures,  (no, not another cluster meeting to go to I hear you cry!), or from the Kafkaesque levels of bureaucracy emanating from donors, who behave like a huge puppet master, pulling the strings of us marionettes to make us dance to their ever-complex accountability tunes. So yes, that analogy of being the swan's legs is quite a good one but now I want to introduce you to another one because I think it is more fun! 

Hummingbird's wings

The third analogy is being the hummingbird's wings. Are you aware of the excellent nature narrator called Randall? He is a comedic genius and his straight-talking voice overs for mini nature documentaries are a world away from the wonderful, softly spoken, measured, yet sensitive tones of Sir David Attenborough, (who I have a lot of respect for, by the way).

Randall pulls no punches in his vivid descriptions and I would love you to enjoy this video of a hummingbird, I selected especially for you, my readers, because I think you will be able to relate to it.

We all know that there is always way too much work to do and we will constantly be in this effervescent, effusive, form of activity in full on emergency response mode. You cannot see the hummingbird's wings move, because they are flapping at such a fast rate they are almost invisible to the naked eye. Yet, you know that without those wings, the hummingbird is not going to be able to fly around from flower to flower to suck out that delicious and nutritious nectar to keep it alive. That’s really what we are like as aidworkers. Our emergency programme will not survive to meet the needs of disaster affected populations if we were not there and fulfilling all of the double, triple and quadruple roles that are expected of us. So I hope you will take heart from this analogy. You are the hummingbird's wings and what magical things they are. Continue to be the hummingbirds wings and take flight!


I'd like to hear from you so feel free to comment below or on the Blondebombshell in Crises Facebook page here or Twitter here.

For now, thanks for reading and if you liked this, pass it on....

Peace, love and light,


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