Life after aid work: Beating the addiction

By Nate Rabe 23 February 2016

Sunset in Iraqi Kurdistan. Nathan Rabe details the well-trodden path of a gradual, rescheduled and repeatedly delayed departure from the aid sector. Photo by: Nathan Rabe

Leaving the aid world has been likened to escaping from a cult. I prefer to think of it as overcoming an addiction. There are three options available to us disgruntled, burned out and cynical humanitarians: cold turkey, the gradual withdrawal or death. The same options any old junkie has, whether addicted to drugs, alcohol or aid. The grip is hard to break.

A lucky few go cold turkey. They wander into the party for a few years, have a good time, work in a couple of major operations then announce they are going back to carpentry. Or that they intend to head back to school to study something unrelated. Aid for them is but one of the many phases of life. Those of us who remain harbor a sniffy resentment:

“He wasn’t the real deal.”

“She didn’t have what it takes.”

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About the author

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Nate Rabe

Nate Rabe, an India born American/Australian, began his aid career in the late 1980s with the U.N. in Pakistan. For nearly 30 years he worked in senior roles in the field and in the headquarters of international NGOs including Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Red Cross. He recently decided to leave the aid sector to pursue his writing and photography, a process he documents in his blog Life After Aid. His second novel, "The Shah of Chicago" is due to be published later in 2016. He currently lives and works out of Melbourne Australia.


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