Image: February 2014. Mbara (right), hugs her four-year-old son, after he had been lost for two days in Bangui, Central African Republic © ICRC / Annibale Greco
Liz Harris works for the International Committee of the Red Cross as a recruitment consultant, specialising in languages. She’ll be representing the ICRC at the GradChances Language Fair on 4th March and tells Comhlámh why the organisation wants to attract more Irish staff.
A few weeks ago, I was in Ireland to check it out as a recruiting ground for the ICRC. Although I’ve been in my post in the UK for four years I hadn’t visited before as my focus had been heavily on interpreters of Asian and African languages, which are not taught in Ireland. Now that I’m focusing more on finding other profiles, such as ICRC general delegates and medics, Ireland has become a very attractive destination. The number of universities offering relevant degrees is quite astounding, all of them well served by excellent careers services who make life very easy for recruiters like me. The Irish are known for their international development and solidarity work, travelling overseas to work in all four corners of the world – so I don’t have to do much persuading. But there’s another reason why Ireland is so appealing: the Irish ‘neutral’ passport is pure gold.
Why is that? you might ask. Well, the ICRC is known for gaining access to places and people that other organisations can’t reach, thanks to its scrupulously neutral stand. This means that when working in a given conflict, we don’t send staff from states which are involved in any way on either side. During the Iraq war in 2003, for example, we would not send anyone from a country which was part of the coalition forces. Given the number of countries that were in it, this presented serious headaches in finding suitable nationalities with the right experience and languages that we could send.
Speaking of languages, this brings me to why I’m back so soon. I’ll be running a stand for the ICRC at in the GradChances Language Fair on 4th March. Languages are crucial if you want a job as a general delegate for the ICRC and highly desirable for most of the other professions. With the ICRC working in over 80 countries, we need staff who can work in English and French at the very least. All the better if you have Arabic or Russian!
What I find at ‘careers with languages’ type events, however, is that students of degree subjects relevant to the work of the ICRC – such as development, conflict studies or international relations – don’t tend to come, even if they do have another language. This is probably due to the misconception that the only jobs on offer will be teaching and translation. So if you have ambitions to work for a humanitarian organisation and speak another language, why not come and see me at the GradChances Fair on Wednesday and I’ll be happy to advise you on your next steps