I approached the HALO trust in December 2005. I was offered a place by the Director - Guy Willoughby, but chose not to take it.
There is a thread already on HALO... Dread offered a really good summary:
You mentioned 2 of the most respected NGOs in your post: HALO Trust and MAG. I have seen both in operation, and was almost foolish enough to join HALO in 2001! The interview is fun (it was at their offices in the middle of nowhere in Scotland), as all the members currently there pile into the room and fire questions at you. The founder of the Trust is one of the sharpest and most intense people you will ever meet. He controls over 3,000 people around the world with an HQ staff of about 4 (some Brit and Yank Comds take note!).
If you pass the interview they will speak to your previous commanders and should they still like you (i.e. you didnt try and 'Walt' them), then they will offer you a job. The initial 6 months or so will be in a stable country learning demining (was Cambodia, might have changed). After you have gained your Class 1 deminer qualification you will then go to one of their more 'active' countries and for 6 months you will shadow the expat in charge there. Then he will leave and you will be on your own with up to 600 locals.
Anyone who works with the HALO trust has my respect (and I think they are mad). They do not tend to work in the 'easy' countries, but go where no other demining NGO will go. They were first into Eritrea, and until the last bombing round (Dec 2001?) they had over 800 people in Afghanistan as well as central african countries. You can be a couple of days drive from the next white man or restuarant, and living conditions are hard. Takes a very rare sort of person to work with HALO for more than 2 years. Did I mention that you will also be kept working 18 hours a day for all that time? They are pushed hard.
Pay is not good. In 2001 a new employee would be paid about GBP22k per annum gross (but tax free). All meals in camp are provided, but if you want anything other than road-kill and rice then you pay for it. I cannot remember the number of flights per year you get or time off. I just remember thinking that it wasnt near enough (but then they want people motivated by the desire to achieve something, rather than by cash - after all they are a charity).
Dread's thoughts closely match my own. I was extremely impressed when I visited them, but quite overawed to be honest.
There were 5 guys on my visit, mostly ex-Army. All struck me as good guys. I was the only one offered a place. They have a clear idea about who they want - I wasn't sure that I could live up to it. One of the ex-HALO guys I contacted likened it to being a District Officer in the days of Empire - huge responsibility, far away from most comforts, for a long time with only a Wilfred Thesiger book and radio tuned to the World Service for company.
I'm not afraid of hardship but I know my limits.
I'm still thinking about NGO work. Like most ex-officers, I am wondering how to strike the balance between the two extremes of organisation:
a) HALO, and similar "hands on" NGOs
b) The more comfortable, politically-orientated, "right on" but relatively ineffective ones
I realise that the above is a crude distinction.
If you're thinking of NGO work generally I could put you in touch with a friend who worked for GOAL (an Irish NGO) in Pakistan before moving on to lucrative contract work for CARE around the place.
Through The List I chatted to a couple of people who were ex-HALO. If you don't have a copy of the List CD then PM me and I'll pass their details on.
A good idea of HALO's approach is on their website, quoted below:
Guy Willoughby said:
It is over 16 years since I set up The Halo Trust in Afghanistan, and globally we now have more than 6,000 deminers â clearing more mines, more hectares and using more equipment than any other demining agency. Perhaps this is why I have been invited to speak on behalf of âThe NGO Perspectiveâ â a group of mine clearance NGOs. This month the international community and many mine affected countries are reviewing the 10 year mine clearance programmes launched through the Ottawa Treaty to eradicate landmines â to create the first mine free states by 2009. But I should not be here at Nairobi; in fact none of us should be here at all. HALO believes that by now we should all have finished mine clearance, or at least cleared the vast majority of mines that people and livestock may tread on.
But have we finished â No. And will you fulfil your 10-year obligations? In most mine affected countries â probably not. It is thoroughly depressing that HALO will probably reach its 21st birthday in 5 years time and still be clearing large numbers of mines along with our NGO Perspective partners and other actors. It will not be a birthday to celebrate, more a recognition that some thing, some plan, some how has gone terribly wrong and has resulted in the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of mine victims out in the communities, who had been waiting for many years for the clearance teams to arrive and clear their fields and homesteads.
Were these communities living in false hope? Yes â they were. And in 1945 did Europeans in Narvik, Naples, Normandy and Nijmegen live in false hope that the landmines in their fields would be cleared? We have been researching history and talking to engineers, and we can tell you that the answer is NO â because they were cleared â millions and millions of landmines were cleared and they were cleared by 1950. One example, the Director of Handicap International France was recently in Kosovo and accompanied Raymond Aubrac, a well known resistance figure during World War II. In 1945, Aubrac was tasked by General de Gaulle with the clearance of French soil under a civilian ministry, to allow the quick resumption of desperately needed civilian activities. Despite a lack of understanding of the problem and despite the scarce technical resources available, the bulk of this immense task was actually completed within just a few years. In Kosovo Raymond Aubrac met Endrit, a young boy of 8 who lost his right leg in March 2004 less than 50 metres from his home. Commenting on this appalling accident, Aubrac made an astonishing reflection: âPerhaps the clearance of France was in fact so quickly implemented that the population didnât have to endure the permanence of a threat like this one. If it had been more lasting and painful, my fellow citizens would better remember their ordeal and subsequently their support for mine clearance projects would be more forthcoming today.â
Although direct comparisons can be difficult to make, these many millions of mines were cleared in France and elsewhere in Europe in 5 years, while it has taken 10 years and more to clear far fewer numbers in post-conflict countries such as Croatia, Bosnia, Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia, Vietnam and so on. Some areas have had mine clearance interrupted by short outbreaks of fighting such as in Afghanistan, northern Iraq or longer as in Chechnya. But the vast majority of mine action programmes have kept going. So why is the work not finished?
The answer is simple. It often boils down to a lack of determination to get the job done â and that means a lack of determination by some of the people who run âMine Actionâ. Instead managers, whether they be UN, government and even non-government, seem content to encourage millions of dollars being spent NOT on mineclearance, but yet more endless working groups, workshops, information management systems, symposia, strategies, studies, standards, plans, policies, portfolios, principled programming, processes, procedures, quality management, mainstreaming, methodologies, measurables, monitoring, quality control, consultations, consultants, courses, conferences, capacity building â and the full range of outreaches, outputs, inputs, indicators, impacts, intervention logic, linkages, gendering, thematics, logical frameworks, normative frameworks, blockages, goals and supergoals. Oh, of course, we accept that some of these are important, but Europe was cleared with simple planning by experienced practitioners, followed by action. It was âthe product, not the processâ that was important. Mineclearance is not difficult â it has been described as a mix of gardening and archaeology â in fact not really much more difficult than digging up potatoes or cassava â just more dangerous and requiring strict but simple procedures.
So how has it got confused? Probably because the senior managers think landmines must be treated like other humanitarian disasters and need a full blown âmulti-layeredâ response, like the responses for drought, flooding, hurricanes, locust or HIV AIDS. But these are all recurring â mines are not. The lucky thing is that MINES DONâT HAVE SEX. Once cleared, mines are gone, finito, terminado, khallas.
So please everybody let's get the problem solved now. Let's stand by the affected countries and concentrate on a tangible product and not a theoretical process. Let's replace false hope with real hope, and not leave this conference without a commitment to intensify and accelerate our mine clearance efforts.
Six Afghan deminers were killed, one injured and three others went missing following a Taliban attack on a convoy of Halo Trust, a mine-clearing agency, in western Herat province on Thursday, an official said.