Frontline aid work is hard work and takes a special type of person to deliver effective aid, let alone survive in the field. After a disaster, a war, a famine or drought, villages and communities are harsh places to live. Food and clean water are scarce as well as sometimes there are serious security issues.
I’ve had 20 years of frontline aid work. I’ve worked in rural Aboriginal communities, conflict zones, disaster zones, urban slums, prisons and generally hardcore poverty zones with difficult people of all types.
I have had to date 8 serious bouts of malaria, 5 dengue fevers, eye infections that blinded me for weeks, typhoid and dysentery as well as being poisoned with Agent Orange.
I’ve been shot at, chased with machetes, survived rioting mobs and had a price on my head. I’ve crashed four-wheel drive vehicles, wiped
out on motorcycles, fallen out of trees, been bitten by animals, cut myself badly with sharp tools, and even charged by an African bull elephant. All this, while trying to help people become self-sufficient and repair their ecosystems using local resources. I think someone must have put the Chinese curse on me “may you live in interesting times!”
I’m still healthy and alive and I have a few stories to tell my grandkids.
Anybody can be trained in permaculture to fix the world where they live. I’ve trained ex-guerilla soldiers, murderers, bureaucrats, thieves, ex-child soldiers, mental patients and disabled people. People that repair the earth end up repairing themselves eventually. Permaculture helps people redeem themselves somehow.
So you want to be an aid worker, huh?
You really want to help people, end poverty, and bring assistance to communities in need?
You want to bring permanent solutions to environmental destruction, drought, health problems, economic problems and end conflict?
You want to replant the deforested lands, make the rivers run clean and find sustainable livelihoods for impoverished people? You want to turn hell into paradise?
If so, forget conventional aid, it’s an embarrassment to the human race.
The most effective way to eliminate poverty and create true sustainability is to use the strategies and techniques of Permaculture Aid. This type of aid teaches communities to grow their way out of poverty using their local resources. A single permaculture field trainer or a team of permaculture aid workers can help a community make a plan that gets real results in a relatively short time. Starting with home gardens, a village can become year-round food secure in several months. Home gardens also improve health and kick-start the local economy. Even a single mother with eight kids can start a home garden with some basic instruction in best-practice organic gardening skills. Permaculture trains people to respect their environment and rebuild their community and ecosystems simultaneously creating true sustainability.
To conduct this type of aid you need to live with the people in their communities. You need to get to know the people, culture and environment. It takes time for people to trust you and like an onion, you gain an understanding in layers as you work and live with your project community. For me, this is the best part of Permaculture Aid. The friendships and connections you make last forever giving your life a depth and quality beyond words.
How do you become a Permaculture Aid worker or field trainer?
Firstly you have to understand what you are capable of. If you really are the adventure type and you can handle the tough times with the good times then you start with a 2-week, permaculture design certificate course (PDC), taught by a reputable trainer.
Next, take a Permaculture Aid field-ready course (the UN would call this a PAWRC) with me, or someone with similar experience. You really need to be trained by someone that has been in the frontline to learn the field skills and all the thousands of short cuts you cant find in books.
Once you have successfully passed your courses, the next step is to take on volunteer work along side an experienced aid worker or Permaculture Aid team. Some of you may want to jump straight in the deep end. Good luck on that one. I was thrown into the deep end on my first development job but I at least had a decade as an infantry soldier under my belt.
There is no glamour in this job, and no medals either. You really have to love your planet and love people and accept the risks of whatever it takes to get the job done. You gain confidence as you go. You learn to be wary of organizations, institutions, and governments, at the same time as having to work with them.
Nobody ever stops learning and you become the eternal student and the eternal teacher rolled into one. You measure your success by what changes happen on the ground, not how many meetings you attended or how much funding your project received.
Some jobs are paid, some are volunteer and some cost you personally. We work for the people and the planet and sometimes the project just has to be done, even at personal cost. What you gain is more skills and ability and the personal growth other people can only read about.
The successful projects leave working models of sustainability behind for others to learn from. “Demonstration is authority” is a principle in our manual so people will see you as an authority when your systems outperform theirs.
Imagine the person you will grow to be after several years of field work in Permaculture Aid. It can be a hard road and it is definitely an interesting one.
Do you still want to become a Permaculture Aid worker?