A woman with short blonde hair and wearing a high vis vest looks at the camera. She stands in a car park with a building in the background.

Annalise loves not knowing how and where she’ll be needed next. Which makes the nature of humanitarian work perfect for her.

Like in March 2019, when Tropical Cyclone Trevor smashed into the coast of Papua New Guinea, Queensland and the Northern Territory – leaving large-scale devastation in its wake.

Thousands of people were evacuated from Aboriginal communities throughout Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria and relocated to emergency centres in Katherine and Darwin.

With the displaced sleeping in tents erected by the army, Annalise worked side-by-side with the Red Cross and authorities to bring emergency aid to the region.

This is just one example of Annalise’s life as a humanitarian. There are many more.

Take the 2021 Northern Territory floods, an event that left regions cut-off from main roads and neighbouring communities.

Annalise found herself coordinating relief efforts on-the-ground while living among the locals, shut in by flood waters. Waters that were teeming with saltwater crocodiles.

Or her year-long deployment with the United Nations in Myanmar, supporting the region as its people endured the massive pressures that COVID-19 placed on its economy and healthcare.

All these experiences were just another ‘normal’ day for a humanitarian worker like Annalise. Truly making a difference to people around the world. In the moments they needed it most.

It’s always a privilege to be invited in at what can be considered as the worst of times.

When fear is high, and trust in outcomes is low. This is where the best of humanity can shine.

The pathway that led her here

Already with qualifications in International Studies, Media and Indonesian, Annalise always had a passion for culture, language and international affairs.

She also lived and worked in Indonesia in an international deployment role – which is when she first considered branching into the humanitarian side of the work.

“I was nervous when I came across the Master of Humanitarian Assistance (MHA) at Deakin, she recalls.

“I had never done research before, so I chose the minimum requirement: a research paper of 6,000 words.

But the support from the research officers was incredible. And once you add in the variety of experiences I received throughout the course, my biggest challenge became fitting my discoveries into such a small word count.

Flexible learning for an ever-changing landscape

The flexibility of the MHA is perfect for the practical nature of the sector. And it was not only an initial drawcard for Annalise. It became a highlight.

With a strong focus on cloud-based learning, the course enables students to participate from all around the world. Bringing with them insightful stories and poignant discussions.

“The other students were having a range of real-world experiences, Annalise recalls.

“Many of us were on-the-ground in disaster areas feeding back experiences and outcomes as they happened. It was an incredibly powerful learning experience.

Annalise also completed two units on campus, both running as 12-day intensives.

“The campus experience was amazing, she says.

“To learn so much in such a short amount of time is incredible.

And getting to meet the teachers face-to-face and connect in-person with the cohort really strengthened our bonds. The students and staff become your allies, your support and your inspiration.

This makes sense. There are some things in life that only those living and learning it can truly understand.

For Annalise, the MHA provided exactly that. The perfect blend of the practical and theoretical aspects of the work.

“It’s been invaluable for starting work in the sector. You need a strong foundation like the MHA offers, because you often need to hit the ground running.

“When I started working with the United Nations, I was so thankful that a lot of what I needed to know – and know very quickly – was covered in the MHA.”

A career path for the kind-hearted and brave

At the essence of humanitarian work is the ability to build a career dedicated to helping people, alongside fulfilling any cravings for variety in day-to-day life.

Or as the Red Cross puts it: it’s the perfect career path for those who thrive in the face of a challenging environment. And Annalise agrees.

When you can be deployed into a conflict or natural disaster zone at anytime, anywhere in the world, you need to be able to adapt fast.

And adapt and thrive she has.

“I always feel lucky to have the chance to support people and communities going through a rough time. I feel so grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the places I’ve seen through this work.”

A growing sector in need of numbers

When considering this path, Annalise says, “Look around the world, don’t listen to any nay-sayers claiming you won’t get work. Humanitarian aid is, somewhat sadly, a growing profession.”

And this is undoubtedly true.

In a post-pandemic world, the need for humanitarian aid is higher than ever before. In 2021, the Australian government stated that one in 33 people needed aid and support. Numbers never seen before in recorded history.

“This is an extremely rewarding and viable career – and you’re needed now more than ever,” Annalise says.

Just look to any global leader in the sector. The need for skilled, passionate and qualified people is very apparent.

So, where to next for Annalise?

“I hope to continue taking up emergency standby roles,” she says.

“I enjoy being able to slot in where needed and to gain exposure to different aspects of the role.

And there are more areas of humanitarian assistance than I ever imagined when I initially chose to study it.”

And with so many people in need of support globally, it’s a career path that will continue to grow and evolve.

“I’m enjoying the constant learning required to adapt to the needs of different emergencies and contexts,” Annalise says.

“I also hope to keep contributing to sector knowledge and research that allows our support to continually improve and adapt.”

Which is a mindset shared by many of these heart-felt humanitarians.

This story originally appeared as a blog on the Deakin University website.