Many people in my circles express a desire to go overseas and contribute toward some kind of cause at some point. Military veterans in particular are often interested in that kind of life–though it may not be easy, it’s rewarding, it’s an adventure and it serves a higher purpose. Like the military, it takes you out of your comfort zone and you learn more about the world and human nature than you ever knew was there in the first place. You realize that no matter how much experience you have in one field, the other will knock you down a few pegs and you’ll be learning all over again.

I grew up as the son of aid workers, and have made a couple of trips to work overseas after I left the military. In total, I have spent nine years in Pakistan and five years in Thailand in these circles. I have ventured out into Burma to make some short documentaries about a field hospital there.


Here are some things I would recommend for people considering the same path, veterans in particular:

There is no pipeline.
I don’t know how many people have asked me to “hook them up” with contacts in Burma, hoping that I could just shoot them an email and they could dive right in and be useful on day one. Like there is an existing system to integrate new personnel or that there is a system at all. Aid work is not the military, and such systems don’t exist for you–any existing system is there to help the people, not serve the aid worker.

You need to be proactive in the truest sense of the word.

Know how you can be useful–and it might not be how you think.
Going over and doing manual labor is nice, but they have people there that can do that. There is usually no shortage of free hands–that’s not to say some extra help isn’t useful, it’s just that realistically you’re not really contributing a whole lot. If you have something to offer, then offer that skill.