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Images of humanitarian disaster work: A study of letters from the field
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Women's and Children's Health. (Internationell kvinno- & mödrahälsovård och migration/Essén)
(English)Manuscript (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

An increasing number of people in western countries want to make an active contribution to the world through humanitarian work. Nevertheless the organisations have to compete to attract the best individuals. WWW has become an important channel for presenting the organisations’ image and attracting potential field workers. This study explored how humanitarian fieldwork, in six European MSF homepages, was presented through letters from the field, in order to attract presumptive humanitarian aid workers. The material was analysed using discourse analysis and content analysis.

The letters provided a glimpse of how it is to work in the field and the reader gets the idea that it is possible to make a contribution and a difference; it is possible to do much with little means, even if one is not professionally very experienced. It is always enough to try your best. The letters do not show the complexity of disaster work and there are few images of local personnel and their contributions to the field work.

If the organisations want to provide a more nuanced image of the work, they should encourage the authors of the letters to describe the work of local staff in order to avoid portraying them as victims. This would strengthen the message that MSF’ expatriates are professionals assisting the locals with their knowledge and resources. Both groups deserve full acknowledgement for the important work they do.

Keyword [en]
Humanitarian action, images, letters, MSF, discourse analysis
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Research subject
Medicine
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-100878OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-100878DiVA: diva2:211203
Available from: 2009-04-09 Created: 2009-04-09 Last updated: 2015-03-02
In thesis
1. Images, Motives, and Challenges for Western Health Workers in Humanitarian Aid
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Images, Motives, and Challenges for Western Health Workers in Humanitarian Aid
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis presents how humanitarian aid workers were attracted, motivated, recruited, and prepared for fieldwork, and how they reported their work experience directly from the field and when they returned home. Data were derived from interviews with experienced aid workers, focus group discussions with presumptive aid workers, analysis of letters from aid workers in the field on MSFs homepages in Europe, and from interviews with recruitment officers at some of the main humanitarian organisations.

Health professionals were attracted by the positive images of humanitarian action. They wished to work in teams with like-minded people, and to make a difference in the world. However, this image was not supported by the recruitment officers, or experienced aid workers, who described a complex reality in humanitarian action. The experienced aid workers instead had realised they learned more than they contributed.

The recruitment system for relief workers would benefit from a more holistic approach, where personalities of the aid workers are more in focus. More time must be spent with the applicants, both recruited and returning aid workers, in order to improve the system. A socialisation approach could help identify the right personnel and to motivate current personnel to continue.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2009. 65 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Medicine, ISSN 1651-6206 ; 453
Keyword
humanitarian action, human resource management, relief workers, aid workers, volunteers, images, motives, qualitative research
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Research subject
Medicine
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-100891 (URN)978-91-554-7509-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-05-27, Universitetshuset, Sal IV, S:t Olofsgatan, Uppsala, 09:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2009-05-06 Created: 2009-04-09 Last updated: 2010-05-27Bibliographically approved

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Bjerneld, Magdalena

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