My Road to Development: Motivations & NGOs

For our next 2019 blog post, we hear from fellow MIDP student, Lay Thinzar Nwe, and her unconventional path to international development including her experience with NGOs in Myanmar, her conflicting motivations with pursuing a career in development and motherhood.

I became a humanitarian aid worker for an NGO by accident. I had no academic background in development, social science or anything related to social change. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? It was most definitely a shock to my parents, relatives and husband when I told them my crazy decision to pursue development with no prior experience.

I was born and raised in a small town in Myanmar. I got both of my Bachelor and Master degrees at local University. I chose Botany for my specialisation as becoming a microbiologist was my ultimate dream. I spent nearly eight years completing my Bachelor’s degree and two years completing my Master’s degree. However, neither of these degrees helped me get a good job. That’s a sad but true story.

In 2010, I decided to leave my beautiful hometown and family to study social science and global issues. A difficult but much-needed decision. After Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, the number of Non-For-Profit Organizations and International Organizations in the country increased.  At that time, in Myanmar, working for a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) was extremely popular due to producing a good income. In all honesty and with regret, it was the first reason why I chose to pursue development. Not because of my passion for humanities. This is how I became a humanitarian aid worker.

In the last decade, the trending work at Non-For-Profits has changed from just “doing good.” These days, when academics, students and the public talk about NGO work in underdeveloped societies, multiple issues can often arise. These issues include high income; expensive living conditions; high incentives of expatriates; expensive workshops; training sessions conducted at five-star hotels; unending meetings; discussions being hosted at private bars; dissimilarity between official reports and experiences from the “ground”; and poor accountability of organisations.

Photo Source: “Shufti Pro 2019”

These negative traits may not represent the entire work of the international NGO community, however, it is a sad truth in many circumstances. Whenever I heard these sad stories as an NGO worker, I felt ashamed and started to question my own work ethic and motivations. What was my real intention of choosing to work in development and the humanitarian sector? For my own profit? Or something deeper? Thanks to my Master’s Degree in International Development Practice at Monash, I can now come to terms with the realities I faced as an NGO worker and accept my own motivations.

Despite the dark side of the NGO world, there are a lot of dedicated practitioners who try their best to bring sustainable change for marginalised and underdeveloped communities.  Working in the development sector inspired me to understand the work of these dedicated practitioners and their motivations. This led me to get out of my comfort zone and previous motivations of receiving a “good income” and apply for positions in conflict-prone and rural areas. Doing so, became the most memorable and exciting period of my life.

Despite being stressed whenever I struggled with reports and deadlines, when I felt depressed for not presenting projects and activities to international staff, when I felt guilty for neglecting my young and adorable daughter’s tears when heading to field visits… I could see the light at the end of the tunnel – bringing sustainable change for the greater community.

I have realised that if I want to work towards a higher position or supervisory role in the future, it is not enough to build my work experience but to expand my skills, my knowledge base and develop the confidence to better understand the challenges of international development. For that purpose, I decided to travel to another part of the world, here in Australia, and pursue a Masters in International Development. I truly believe that my tertiary experiences in Monash and my new network with fellow students will help me broaden my horizon and bring me a new and exciting chapter of life.

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