For almost twenty years, I have been striving to make the best out of implementing development programs. But at times this has come at a high cost.
In 2006, I took a long-term position in the field where I saw myself not only contributing to changing the world but also advancing my career. Unfortunately, the work was more than I could handle and when I didn’t get the assistance I asked for at this critical juncture, I stressed myself out attempting to prove to those “headquarter people” that I did not need their help after all.
Then several months into the assignment, I began feeling sick and irritated all the time. My hair started falling out, and I was losing large amounts of weight. My mood swings led me to confrontations with my boss and other colleagues, and I became extremely emotional even about minor issues. Yet nobody bothered to ask me if I was ok or needed help, and I had nowhere to turn to ask for guidance and put things into perspective. One day, I fainted when I was alone with my two-year-old daughter and was forced to seek medical help. Long story short, I was evacuated and five blood transfusions later I was diagnosed with a serious chronic condition. In the midst of this traumatic experience, I was still getting messages from colleagues asking about where I put this file or that document and questions about whether I did this or that thing. To add insult to injury, when I came back to the US, my employer handed me a poor performance evaluation and no salary increase. I am sure my performance suffered from what was happening to me, but I wished someone would have taken the time to give me the benefit of the doubt and realize that I was overwhelmed and both physically and emotionally ill.
This is why I feel strongly about lending others a hand, so they don’t have to experience the disappointment and disillusion I felt about my career and the hurt from what I thought was the lack of support from colleagues and even family and friends. This experience helped me reevaluate my priorities and focus on what is really important to me, but I hope we can lessen the burden of others, so their journey can be less rocky.
—Raquel Fontanés, International Development Specialist and Co-founder of The Mind Field