“The humanitarian sector is not only a job for me, it is a way of life”
Pascal Maillard is a field coordinator. Back from a mission in Haiti, he shares with us his experience in the humanitarian world as well as his personal vision of the sector.
How did you end up in the humanitarian world?
I have a rather classic University course. At 23 years old, my first idea was to travel the world and discover other ways of life. The gateway was international solidarity. From my first mission, what represented for me a way to be mobile became a goal, a way of life. And this sensation never really left me. I worked for seven years in the field, notably for Première Urgence Internationale in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia.
Have you always worked in the humanitarian sector?
No, after a seven-year-long series of missions, I wanted to confront myself to other experiences, especially in France. Very soon, I joined a popular education association as a projects coordinator. During this professional experience of about ten years, I employed many skills acquired as humanitarian worker.
But in the last years, I was missing working in the humanitarian field. I knew that I would go back somehow to this environment. I then started to reconnect with it by doing short missions as a consultant in Iraqi Kurdistan and as a trainer for departure preparation sessions.
What mission was the most memorable for you?
This is a difficult question because I have done more than fifteen missions on the main theatres of humanitarian intervention! Kosovo with Première Urgence Internationale, for example, was a particularly strong cornerstone, both professionally and humanly.
We are in the early 2000s. Slobodan Milosevic removes Serbian troops from Kosovar territory following NATO intervention. That same year, he was charged before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In the middle of winter, people lack everything. Tensions remain extreme between the Serb and Orthodox minority and the Muslim Albanian majority. In this context, Première Urgence Internationale decides to take action for the two communities, based on its principles of neutrality and impartiality.
This mission was for the whole team a real collective adventure. It took place at a time when the humanitarian community was much less standardised, less constrained by security rules and probably more idealistic! We were the only ones to intervene in certain critical areas of the territory that, in theory, were inaccessible, like the Serbian enclaves. Every day we had to adapt to find parades to carry out our mission. This experience has deeply bring us together. Even today, 18 years later, we continue to see each other again and we can always count on each other. Of course, this marks us for life!
What do you love the most in the humanitarian sector?
I like the “just before” period, the atmosphere of airports, boarding and air travel. It is a special moment when you are always alone, going toward a form of unknown, just before starting a new story. Perfect time to clear your mind! Each time, you have the impression to start from scratch. For me, it generates a form of positive stress, probably as I am attracted irresistibly to new horizons.
What do you remember from your experiences?
What I remember is that a simple desire to travel more than twenty years ago has become a vocation. The humanitarian sector is not just a job for me; it is a way of life. It enables you to see the world and better understand it. It urges us never to conform to certainties but to maintain a benevolent curiosity.
Above all, experiences structure the meaning given to our commitment. With Première Urgence Internationale, as with other international NGOs, I have understand the importance of being present where crisis victims suffer the most. This is probably because, by my character, I am more what we call in our jargon a “frontliner”, more at ease in pure emergency situations than in development.
Now and in the coming months, I intend to continue the adventure with Première Urgence Internationale. My current position as “rover field coordinator” allows me to go on a wide variety of missions, to share my experience and my vision with the new generation of humanitarians and that is what motivates me the most.
My only ambition is to continue to do what I love, to be as close as possible to my values and my way of understanding life. I have never tried to build an ideal, predefined course; I work more “instinctively”. It is my way of feeling free!