VU graduate finds calling as humanitarian engineer

Jeanne Vidal says her role as a humanitarian engineer in world hotspots gives her an opportunity to use her career to make a difference.

Since joining the medical humanitarian aid organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in 2014, the Caroline Springs resident has helped in emergency water and sanitation projects in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen.  She’s off to Iraq for three months later this week.

Jeanne assessing damage to Yemen hospital

Her current job contrasts considerably with well-paid roles she had in Australia during the country’s mining and construction boom after completing a VU civil engineering degree in 2009.

Jeanne reframed plans for her future after seeing the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan in her Philippines homeland, and speaking first hand to an aid worker while on a flight from Manila.

“At first, I got rejections from many development organisations because I didn’t have any aid background until MSF hired me as a water and sanitation specialist.”

Like many aid workers, Jeanne has lived in tents with basic living conditions, experienced unstable security, and navigated the cultural and political complexities of liaising with local people and other aid representatives in war-torn countries.

 Jeanne’s role is to ensure the MSF-supported local hospitals, refugee camps, or other places she’s posted meet minimum international standards of water, sanitation and hygiene.

Jeanne, who is about to turn 31, says her career is now focused on having a job that aligns with her values and using her professional experience in humanitarian issues.

 “My life is really nomadic right now and I am aware that I’m missing out with what many people my age normally do. But the upside is that I’m growing so much personally and professionally.”

Jeanne’s long-term goals are to complete a masters degree in the UK, then work as a technical adviser in the France-based headquarters of Médecins Sans Frontières or another humanitarian organisation.

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