Li Ling's career path as a humanitarian worker

She is a world citizen with empathy, kindness, and tenacity.



What do you think of when talking about public services and welfare? Today we will introduce Li Ling, project manager for Tajikistan program in Peaceland Foundation, the former UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) employee who takes humanitarian work as career.


People say that it usually takes toilsome periods before one gets his/her mind sharpened or achieve the goal through realization. Li Ling herself presents such an example. Before stepping into the humanitarian area, she was police dealing with transnational human trafficking and sexual abuse. “It is hard when you cannot help, even though you have done what you can to the extreme at your position.” She was talking about the girls who were sold to a foreign place. “I desperately want to help them with their identity card in a new country, because without that you are unable to do anything.” She says, “I cannot do that. I was asked to close the case and head to another one.”


There was a short silence in the meeting room, not knowing what to say conveys the mixed feelings of every listener.


However, the dissatisfaction in work did not strike her numb or suffocate her faith. After resigned from police force, with determination and persistent efforts, she began her career path as a humanitarian worker.



Profession of Monitoring & Evaluation


Li Ling hoped to see people’s lives better with her own actions. Majored in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), her job is to make plans for charity groups and to monitor the progression of their projects. During her study, Li Ling used her spare time be a part-time worker in Turkey as third-party monitoring officer. Initiating research and conducting needs assessments in the MENA region constitute her daily work.  


“M&E work can ensure that people are doing correct things, you know, not letting the money begone with nothingness.” The objective evaluation of the effects of helping-project enables the initiators for future research and investment in specific areas. Nevertheless, some beneficiaries are still hostile toward them at work. “This requires the workers to be equipped with communication skills. For instance, we used to play games by using the wheat with the locals in the focus group discussion to earn their trust.”


(Research representation on remote monitoring)


On the other hand, the demand for remote management and external M&E consultants who understand the local context became higher in recent years. “Attacks towards humanitarian workers coupled with the global COVID 19 pandemic have led to the more vital role of M&E to ensure the accountabilities of all stakeholders.”




“I don’t want to live in the bubbles.”

She fled from the bubble, the fragile and dreaming sight, or the shell that protected her away from gunfire and riot.


Humanitarian field is such a big word, and everyone’s path is different according to the agencies, sectors, locations s/he choose to start with. “UN is the ceiling, the top level and the dream place, for a lot of social welfare worker.” Li Ling states. Admitted to UNHCR Global Service Center as a full-time worker, Li Ling dived into the refugee area with professional knowledge and assistance. However, working in the headquarter restrains the chances for her to really get contact with the refugees.


The feeling of not touching the ground bothered her and reminisces her a lot about her experience as a coordinator in refugee center in Belgium and human rights researcher in Ghana. She felt the needs to communicate with beneficiaries in real life.


(Visiting local NGOs for advocating human rights in prison)


“I don’t want to live in the bubbles (sitting in the office and doing paperwork), going to the field with NGOs means much more to me than being labeled superficially as the ‘working in UN’, because to live in the same way (as the refugees) allows me to tackle with the problems that are essential to them”, She pointed out, “so I need to break that, break the bubbles, to breathe in air, to learn the real situation of the refugee with my own eyes.”


“To experience, to gain, and to realize”, to Li Ling, the code forebodes a new phase—working in the ICRC next year, whose job opportunities allow her to have a closer contact with the refugees/IDPs.  




Life Goes on

About refugees/IDPs, the other side of the world, the hope of life and stability.


Because of abundant working experiences in humanitarian aid, to Li Ling, “refugee” is no longer a rigid term simply referring to people without homes or destination. “We call them vulnerable groups, objectively, they might be sensitive to something one mentions unconsciously.” Li Ling says.


“The trauma they have because of wars or losses of family attacks them harder than we could imagine. So, we normally would shun talking about nationality, for example, thinking on their side.”


Sometimes people who work in the frontiers will avoid mentioning the term “refugee” in front of the migrants so that they will not make them feel uncomfortable or inferior. However, Li Ling gives her own opinion on this topic. “I don’t think ‘refugee’ connotates negative meanings like inferiority. People living in the camps sometimes would call themselves ‘refugees.’ The important thing is not showing condescension or being prideful about what you have,” Li Ling says seriously, “they can detect that, but judgement does not result from what you said.”


“Most of the time, they (the refugees) will just call themselves like ‘I am a refugee,’ but for us, the better choice is to be careful to establish mutual respect.”


In fact, it can be easy for us to relate with the refugees. When we face failures or stagnation in life, probably most people would not be happy to accept others being kind by showing pity to them, or that is equivalent to downright rejection of their identity of independence or capabilities.


(Organizing biking activities for youth from refugee centre)


What’s more, Li Ling spoke of her experience of talking with the refugees.


“One can see the other side of the refugees, instead of the stereotype which is made up of desperation and futility. They usually talk about the sunshine on the beach, the delicious food they had, sometimes kids would come up to you and invite you to soccer when in the Youth Camp. I am always eager to know what their original life was like, to be friends with them, and these experiences make me, and me at the position, feel meaningful.” Tilting her head slightly, Li Ling says with a smile.


There is warfare, there is chaos, there is smoke and death, but life goes on.


AuthorLi Zichen

Editor: Li Tiange