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#217 Blogging for the agency website

April 2, 2014

Submitted by wpb, an EAW communications professional 

The Expat Aid Worker loves to blog, and not just on his or her personal blog (yes, that is a popular pastime as well, but it requires regular updates, and can run the real risk that only mum will bother to read it).

Writing blog posts, also known as “field diaries,” for the agency website is a far more visible way to translate the plight of those suffering from war, disease, famine, or whatever, for audiences back home. If the EAW is lucky, it might be placed somewhere like the Huffington Post or The Guardian, giving him loads of credibility, and allowing him to modestly link to it on Facebook.

It’s true that many EAWs will allow the communications officer to write the piece, just checking the technical details before signing their name to a piece that ends with something insipid like: “…and as long as we can continue to deliver life-saving immunizations/ shelter/ food to children like Fatima, they will survive – and thrive.”

For others, however, this is an opportunity to embrace the dramatic writing skill that the assistant professor in the university creative writing elective was so unappreciative of. Because now the skill is resurfacing. And with a vengeance, because what requires more drama than starving babies, land mine victims and the EAW’s deep emotional connection to people caught in this or that heartbreaking situation?

As every EAW knows, the best thing about the field diary/blog post is that it’s a way to make the disaster about YOU. EAWs like to write about being invited into mud huts to drink tea. On one hand an EAW can show how these people are just like us. On the other, she can show how trusted and accepted she is in this wildly foreign land. And, having had a simple, humbling, human interaction, she can then exploit it on social media.

It’s important to keep it relevant and exciting though. Writing a straight piece on a widowed mother of six in a refugee camp is too hard for people to relate to. And even the savviest EAW among us really has to know how to ask a leading question to prize any drama out of some people (they really do not get it at all). Even if an EAW asks something as direct as “tell me, what have you lost in this disaster?” the selected widow might say something like “things are better now that there are regular food rations and shelter, and the children are happier here.” And what can an EAW do with that?!

So rather than bother with potentially insensitive or intrusive questions, it’s better for the aid worker to be respectful and just see things for himself. He can identify “the pain behind the smile, as she struggles to carry on.” An aid worker knows how common sexual assault is in the conflict, even though no one will speak about it, and this allows him to see “the silent scream in her eyes.” An aid worker can read a lot in people’s eyes, actually.

The best thing about the whole situation is that the refugee mother (or reformed child soldier, or famine stricken family) is highly unlikely to read the article and question the EAW’s flair for the dramatic. And so the selected widow’s children’s few months of missed school can become years, the blood she saw on the street was probably a body (or many bodies – that’s probably what the unreliable local interpreter meant to say anyway), and her relationship to a victim of the conflict becomes a little closer – going from “someone I heard about” to “husband.” (One can always blame the interpreter.)

A last note is that it’s important for the EAW to remember that information is only one aspect of a good blog post. When writing it up, style is everything. The EAW should insert periodic pauses for dramatic effect.

Then start a new paragraph.

A paragraph that might go a little like this:

His eyes swollen with tears, he glares up at me. Muhammed is only eight, yet the cruel ravages of war have exerted their merciless toll. His mother and sister forced into hard labour akin to slavery, leaving Muhammed scavenging through piles of trash in the forgotten refugee camp.

And his kitten smelt like camel piss.

Add a photo of a) extremely sad impoverished children with large eyes and a mother with a covered head or b) extremely impoverished children who still smile and play, (Don’t forget to get the photo credits assigned) and voila.

Later the EAW can read her published blog post, content in the knowledge she has “shed light on the truth,” “raised the profile” of her organization, and “given a voice to the vulnerable.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. saucycat permalink
    April 4, 2014 4:46 am

  2. Johnson permalink
    April 26, 2014 7:36 am

    This post reminds me of my previous post on SEAWL. Feels good to publish and take pics with village children, doesn’t it?

    Perfect timing for a piece just written by yours truly. Yeah I just called myself out.

  3. Really? permalink
    June 4, 2014 5:14 pm

    Likely that “the dramatic writing skill that the assistant professor in the university creative writing elective was “… not so appreciative of ending sentences with prepositions. Another indicator of the state of blogging and who should do it. Ironic that you might say ‘the skill is resurfacing’.

    I get the point of the piece, I see it in your eyes. Light has been shed. EAWs are all about the ego, one way or another, actually. Or maybe, ‘one way or another, though.

  4. July 24, 2014 12:41 pm

    Making it about YOU! perfect …

  5. T A permalink
    October 3, 2016 8:12 pm

    The level of ‘exploitation’ that i depict from this entry disheartens my views of aid workers (to some extent a large portion). Im studying to be an urban planner and although in my work i look mostly at developments in a first world setting, i find that this use of exploitation to prove a point is evident in all contexts. I see myself as guilty of this ‘crime’ against humanity, even though i dont work in aid…… Why do i seem to gain more than those i am trying to help?

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