Celebrating UN Humanitarian Day: What is it like doing a degree in humanitarianism?

Nicole Wootton-Cane
Nicole Wootton-Cane

19 August 2020 • 4 min read

Each year, the United Nations celebrates humanitarian workers from all over the globe on World Humanitarian Day. 

Humanitarian degree programmes are a great way to bring your interest in making a difference and helping others into the academic and working world. 

From Humanitarian Intervention to International Humanitarian Law, humanitarian college majors can intersect with a variety of different career paths and disciplines, and are a great option for anyone interested in helping others through their work.

Jess Walmsley has just finished her first year of an International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response degree at the University of Manchester, and spoke to Edvoy about her experience of doing a humanitarian-based degree.

She said that her course was perfect for people who “have a genuine desire to make a difference.”

“I think when doing a degree like mine you need to ensure you're not doing it for yourself. A degree in humanitarianism is ultimately to aid others - and I think there needs to be a degree of understanding how to do that whilst taking the course.”

A lifelong interest in volunteering for disaster relief charities inspired her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in humanitarian studies, after realising that certain humanitarian efforts, such as western voluntourism, where tourists pay to participate in voluntary work, are often unethical and unhelpful. 

“I have wanted to learn more about how I can aid people in difficult situations in an ethically minded way which I believe this course can teach me about.”

Alongside her studies, Jess is a brand ambassador at Shelterbox - something she says helps her understand how the things she learns in her degree can be applied to real world situations. Shelterbox is a disaster relief charity that provides emergency shelter and aid to families around the world who have lost their homes due to disaster and conflict. 

“I am constantly sent operations updates, learn where the most pressing disasters are and how Shelterbox are responding and what I can do from home to help out.”

She was also keen to highlight the variety of careers that can be linked to humanitarian college majors. 

“If you want to go into international work - whether that be in the medical profession, teaching or languages - then this course teaches you about so many different cultures and countries which is a really valuable part of the course and will aid your career.

“It’s intense, you are constantly learning about the horrors of this world but you also learn what went wrong, why these disasters occurred, and what you could do to help prevent them.”

Jess said that her favourite thing about her degree is the learning process, which involves studying disasters from as long ago as 70 years, to as recently as 10 years ago.

“The range of disasters is fascinating and you learn about aspects of a disaster you may have never even considered. It’s really eye opening to the depths and differences between countries' governance and how they deal with disaster.”

Looking to the future, Jess said taking a minor in digital humanities as part of her degree had helped her think about the areas of humanitarian work she could pursue a career in.

“At the moment I can see myself working in the logistics or geo- spatial mapping sector of disaster management - looking at how vulnerability can be mapped to know who would be most at risk if disaster were to strike. 

“I think I’ve still got a long way to go, I need to read more and educate myself on not only what happened in history but the disasters striking now. For now though I am happy to continue volunteering - at the moment I am working with the University of Manchester on Team Rwanda which is in partnership with Azizi Life - a craft company working with female led artisan businesses. 

“But humanitarianism doesn’t have to be international - even during coronavirus, showing a vulnerable person kindness by shopping for them or delivering hot food is all part of that journey for me.”

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Nicole Wootton-Cane
Written By
Nicole Wootton-Cane

Nicole lives in Manchester and is a Content Writer and Editor at Edvoy and journalist.


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