“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


We all know the gorgeous joys associated with taking a break from the daily grind. When you’re used to a hectic working life, there’s nothing more pleasurable than a holiday, when you can stay in bed for as long as you like (or have a more leisurely breakfast than usual with the kids), maybe visit an exotic location or two, and perhaps even have the luxury of switching your brain into a lower gear for the peaceful contemplation of your long-ignored navel. For those of us in the strange and unexpected position of un- or under-employment, however, a shift up a gear into even a short-term engagement can be equally refreshing.

There are very few witnesses to my daily routine, but my only interested observer, a friendly neighbourhood cat who seems to have decided he lives with us, was confused from May 17 to 23 to see me springing out of bed at five each morning, putting on makeup and a suit and heading out the door for at least the duration of the day. Pepé (à la Pepé Le Pew, so nicknamed because of his ineffable stink the first time he purred his pretty way into our home) was equally confused when I got home at seven or eight each evening and curled up on the sofa with a laptop to write up the day’s reports. What strange new behaviour was this?

Living room with cat

This, I failed to explain to my stinky little friend, was my week as a volunteer reporter at UNISDR’s 4th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. What a great time I had, pretending to be a valuable and contributing member of society once again! Each day I had to attend sessions and side events dedicated to the discussion of developing resilience to disasters, and the hope that preparedness can prevent natural hazards from turning into natural disasters, and the major challenges to disaster risk reduction, such as urbanisation and overpopulation. Or something. Then I had to write summarised reports of no more than 300 words…

I think it’s obvious to all that I’m prone to a little more verbosity than that, so needless to say this was something of a challenge. I managed to submit most of my reports within the 24-hour deadline, however, and was rewarded with the pleasurable task, on the last day of the conference, of conducting video interviews with fellow reporters and photographers for inclusion on the International Communications Volunteers’ website. Oh, and I was also tasked by UNISDR to report to them whenever there were interventions by 28 named parliamentarians, and I took it upon myself to join the media team in tweeting about the event whenever I had a spare moment.


(I was secretly rather pleased with this one: “How many parliamentarians does it take to change a disaster risk reduction strategy?”)

When using the Global Platform hashtag (#gpdrr13) I was, of course, obliged to accentuate the positive, but now that I’m my own boss again I can talk about some of the funnier/more controversial things that happened during that very exciting week…

This 4th Global Platform was the biggest event to have ever taken place at the Geneva International Conference Centre, and the venue was bursting at the seams with 3,500+ participants from countries all over the world. You can imagine the chaos, then, when some bright spark in the “market place” in the foyer decided to store his empty polystyrene coffee cups under his desk by the electrical cables, and started a fire which resulted in a mass evacuation. The good folk of Save the Children were busily in conference with a huge bunch of kids on the mezzanine level when the fire started, and the conference organisers were, of course, concerned about the kids in their care. Shouting up from ground level, they pleaded, “Save the children!”, to which the staff from Save the Children, calmly bundling up the young ones for whom they were responsible, shouted back, “We are!”

In the meantime, the fire engines amassing outside were battling to gain access to the building, as all the diplomatic vehicles had been parked in the no-parking zone by the entrance, their drivers having dispatched sundry VIPs, then presumably nipped around the corner for a sneaky cigarette.

These self-same VIPs, I’d learned to my shock earlier in the conference, also had priority access to the building. Before the conference was actually underway and I was not yet assigned to reporting tasks, I was stationed at the entrance and instructed to direct people to the appropriate queues for registration. The system was simple: Very Important People went one way, and All The Others, those, I guess, who are Not Very Important, went the other. In my own small, rebellious, egalitarian way, I challenged the elitist system by welcoming people with a cheery Bonjour! and leading them all the same way. I think my radicalism was noted, however, as I was soon taken off the task, presumably to be replaced by someone with the classist wherewithal to ask all comers whether they were significant or simply the scrapings from some Big Shot’s shoe.

All joking aside, though, it was a privilege to be involved with this conference, and I made some great new friends and was inspired by some amazing people. (Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction is, for example, my new hero.)

At OAS, Presentation of United Nations Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction

(Thank you to http://www.unisdr.org/who-we-are/srsg-drr for this picture.)

And I must remember, when one day I find myself back in fulltime employment and hear myself complaining about having to go to work, that there was once a time when my fulltime holiday was punctuated by the happy pleasure of an honest week’s work, and few experiences brought me greater joy.

Leave a Reply