‘‘’When you start working for the UN, it becomes very difficult to come back to a quiet life''

17 May 2013

‘‘’When you start working for the UN, it becomes very difficult to come back to a quiet life''

For most of us, being a UN Volunteer provides a first experience within the United Nations system and a unique opportunity to understand what means "working in the field". This is not the case for Philip Harris! When Philip was deployed in Lubumbashi in January 2012, he was no stranger to mission life. Rather, peacekeeping missions and the United Nations were already part of his life. Indeed, from 1992 to 2009, Philip used to travel and work around the world for the United Nations. His job: evacuate UN staff when the security situation became uncertain.

''I used to work as a Chief Aviation Officer and was, as such, responsible of emergency evacuations,'' he says. ''During all these years, I have been sent anywhere in Africa and the Middle East where crisis unfolded, to get all the UN staff out. I remember, at the time of the war in Sierra Leone in 1999, I had to evacuate all UNASMIL staff. People were fighting around. On our way to the airport, we realized that someone was missing. I had to backtrack. The car was surrounded by thousands of people fleeing the rebels. It was almost impossible to drive through the crowd going on the opposite direction. But we managed to localize the missing person and to take off just before the rebels arrived at the helipad''

Working in those extreme situations requires a dose of cold blood and rigor to react quickly: '' The security of many people rested on my shoulders; therefore I had huge responsibilities to assume and had to act without hesitation.

However, the excitement combined with the rush of adrenaline made me forget the danger and focus on one objective: safely getting everybody out of the mess,'' he says. ''On the whole I had an enthralling career and I enjoyed working in this field. And when I do go home I think I will sit down and put a book together''

After such an intense career, we would find it normal to go home and enjoy a well-deserved retirement. But no, at the time of being retired, Philip decided to become a UN Volunteer: ''I worked and lived all my life abroad. You know, after so many years within the United Nations, it somehow becomes your family and friends at the same time and you are not used anymore to a quiet life. So, when I got retired, I started to miss my life in missions. I also missed my friends terribly. This is one of the reasons that pushed me to become a UN Volunteer.'' And the former P5 to add: ''But , serving as a UN Volunteer is also a way of giving my experience of 20 years working at the UN back.''