Aid work might be a noble profession, but nobody said it was easy.
The solitude and stress of working in a disaster zone can leave relief workers depressed, disillusioned and burned out.
Seeing the toll aid work was having on some of her colleagues, Alessandra Pigni founded Mindfulness for NGOs to bring mindfulness-based stress reduction to humanitarian aid workers.
The organization is aiming to keep aid workers sane and functioning in difficult situations. It’s offering mindfulness workshops and online seminars for workers in the field. It recently held free mindfulness sessions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Pigni has seen colleagues break down in the field while doing aid work for Médecins Sans Frontières.
“I have seen depression, alcohol and drug abuse, helpers’ fatigue and eventually burnout turn ‘a humanitarian dream’ into a humanitarian nightmare,” writes Pigni.
One study by The Overseas Development Institute says between 30 and 50 percent of aid workers suffer from moderate to severe levels of emotional distress, and 40 percent are at high risk of burnout.
“Changing the world out there is great,” she writes. “But starting from ourselves and our relations is [just] as important.”