Each week we will be running Q&As with Australian women doing vital humanitarian and aid work. Women you may not have heard of.
This week meet Nichola Krey, Head of Humanitarian Affairs at Save the Children Australia, an organisation dedicated to protecting children from harm, and providing them with access to education and health services.
1. What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?
The nature of humanitarian work – and one of the reasons I love it so much – is that it can change hour-by-hour depending on what is happening around the world. There is rarely a dull moment. I manage a team of humanitarians who advise me on particular crises, whether they be conflict related or natural disasters and together, we make decisions on our response to these disasters. Therefore, much of my day-to-day role involves listening to advice from others, engaging in analysis and deciding on our action.
2. How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?
In 2000, I was sitting next to two aid workers in a café in Mae Sot in Thailand. They were planning to visit a Burmese refugee camp on the Thai border in Myanmar. I unapologetically eavesdropped, and then, sensing a unique opportunity, asked to join them. They agreed and my fate was sealed. I met people who had been living away from their family for ten years in a refugee camp. That experience really put things into perspective for me. I returned to Australia, completed my degree and started volunteering for Austcare in East Timor. That was 13 years ago and I have never looked back.
3. What are the most rewarding/challenging parts of your job?
The most challenging parts of my job often end up being the most rewarding. Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect is the overwhelming humanitarian need, and the lack of resources and funding available to reach everyone.
The overwhelming human need is the challenge, but it is what drives humanitarians to keep going and never give up. When we do raise the funds and deliver a quality emergency response and actually save lives, this becomes the most rewarding aspect.
4. In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?
The Australian public has always been extremely generous to Save the Children – especially to natural disasters in our region.
5. Do you think that the Australian government is currently meeting its global responsibilities in terms of foreign aid?
The Australian Government recently cut the aid budget by $11 billion. This has a significant impact on the lives of those impacted by poverty and disaster. Given our wealth and status, I think we can do better than that.
6. What are the most significant humanitarian crises we are facing, both at home and abroad?
The crisis in the Middle East has proliferated across the world – including those refugees who have fled the region and are now in detention in places such as Nauru. The horrors we are seeing in Europe of people risking life and limb to get to a safe place are all part of this crisis. Those millions of Syrians who are displaced and living in refugee camps in places like Lebanon and Jordan and the presence of radical groups like Daesh (ISIS) in the region, have changed the face and the lives of those countries and the people in them forever. The Syrian crisis has been going for five years and is not going away anytime soon. Those refugees who have flown from Syria are unlikely to ever return to their homes again and those millions of people who are still in Syria are facing an unthinkable future.
In Australia, the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in offshore facilities such as Nauru is not only a crisis, but a defining moment in time in Australia’s history. How we choose to treat fellow humans, particularly children, who have flown from war and persecution, is what defines us as a nation. I would like to see Australians unify and put a stop to this continuing tragedy.
Poverty in Indigenous Australia is some of the worst I have seen anywhere. I recently visited New Zealand, and left very wistful about the social and economic status of Indigenous Australians. There is a genuine celebration of Maori culture in New Zealand, and I don’t think we are there yet in Australia.
Watch: Nichola Krey as part of the emergency response team after Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.
7. What do you see as the most significant challenges for women in the developed and developing world?
Violence against women is happening everywhere. Even in Australia, the rates of violence against women are completely unacceptable and we know it happens to women across all classes, backgrounds and ethnicities.
In places such as Papua New Guinea, on our doorstep, it is estimated that 70% women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Protecting children from this violence becomes an even bigger challenge for women who are so vulnerable themselves.
8. What can everyday Australians do each day to make a difference?
Educate yourself on what is really happening in the world and don’t believe everything (perhaps anything?) you read in the mainstream newspapers.
Volunteer as much as you can to get the experience. Know that a choice to work as a humanitarian will provide you with the best experiences that life has to offer, but may also make it difficult for you to return to “life in the suburbs” – and this may have an impact on your relationships and choices about family.
If you do become a humanitarian worker, look after your mental and physical health as the work takes its toll – and you are no use to anyone if your health suffers as a result.
Lastly, my advice would be to know that those people we work with are not helpless, but that they are the ones who will drive the future of their country long after we have hung up our hats and headed off to the next disaster.
Learn more about the work that Save the Children Australia does here on their website.