Before we start philosophizing, what doesn’t my resume say about me? I am fiercely passionate about life even if most people don’t get to see it; I love and miss my family dearly and often scheme about how I can rearrange my career so I can be closer to home; I crave making music and art a part of my life, and am often surprised I didn’t end up in a career somehow related to those things; I am that annoying person who, at 2am, will insist that karaoke is a really good idea; curling up with a good book is the definition of my comfort zone; I love learning and continuously expanding my horizons but also realize that you don’t necessarily need to travel to the ends of the earth to discover things about life; that said, if you told me tomorrow that I would never be able to travel and explore a new place ever again I would immediately melt into the earth and cease to exist.
I have a total of nine years of experience working in the field of International Public Health and hold degrees in Comparative Literature, Control of Infectious Diseases, and Epidemiology. My first blog was in 2004, a travel diary of an 8 month “round the world trip” (well, 4 continents anyway) aimed at keeping friends and family up to date as to my whereabouts. Blogging found its way into my life once again in 2007 when I relocated to Paradise (aka Juba, Southern Sudan) to work for a non-profit, non-governmental organization managing HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and support programs. For the two years I lived in Sudan I wrote about what life there is like, the experience of women in Southern Sudan, and the national and regional events that affected us.
No, Petunia is not my real name. I haven’t been able to figure out a way to strike a personal/work balance in theory or practice in real life, so to try in a public forum like this doesn’t make much sense to me either. Therefore both of us will have to remain anonymous. I know, I know, it’s annoying, but that’s just the way it’s going to have to be.
Just to be clear, yes, my career has been exclusively with not-for-profit, non-governmental organizations and academia, but the labels “Aid Worker,” “Humanitarian Worker” and “Charity Worker” do not fully describe what I do. The line between Development and Aid is sometimes very obvious, and sometimes very blurry. I believe that people have the right to access products, services and information to keep them healthy from preventable diseases regardless of where they live or the amount of money in their wallet. Over the long run ensuring countries and communities have the ability to do this themselves is far more important than any stop-gap handouts Western countries can provide.
The fact that our society views this occupation as something exceptional and outside the mainstream seems unnatural to me – it is just as necessary to the fabric of the world as plumbers or lawyers or teachers. For-profit companies could not exist without not-for-profit work in their communities, and not-for-profits cannot exist without the funding that for-profit companies provide. Everything is a balance. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that I think that those of us who do this work are just people in an industry like any other trying to find meaningful work that makes us happy, and any insinuation that we are answering to a “higher calling” or “serving the greater good” is besides the point. There are millions of people all over the world that volunteer in their communities – at the local food bank or soup kitchen, the homeless shelter, the highway cleanups, the church/synagogue/mosque – or are doing the enormously important work of raising their children to be good people and our viewpoint is the same: it is not fair that the world is so unevenly cruel and there is something everyone can do about it, even if it is a couple hours each week or month. We’re the same. Except I receive a salary and gravitate towards living in places with warmer climates 🙂
…please excuse me for a moment while I step down off my soapbox…
You can find the original Petunia in Paradise blog from Southern Sudan on the tab in the menu, or click here. The rest of this space is for whatever adventures await in the future! Feel free to contact me at petuniaparadise at gmail dot com.