‘From corporate life to the aid sector’


Hiroko Yabusaki, Deputy head of subdelegation in Kandahar, Afghanistan


Tell us about your first assignment with the ICRC.

My first assignment was in Myanmar (Lashio Subdelegation) in 2016 as a protection delegate. We carried out visits to detention facilities and camps, interacting with people in need of our assistance as well as being in regular contact with the authorities. Being the first-mission delegate, I paid a lot of attention to absorbing – observing my colleagues and how they interacted with various interlocutors.

Coming from a somewhat similar cultural context (Japan), I picked up the cues well. For instance, I would observe people’s body language and read between the lines, pacing my conversation accordingly. For instance, people in Myanmar will probably not say “no” to your face, but that does not mean they are on board with everything you say. So, I would not push conversations because that’s not something that’s culturally appropriate in Myanmar.

I also learnt a lot about resilience during my first mission to Myanmar. The visits to detention facilities were especially hard, and nothing quite prepares you for those. I was very moved by what I saw and soon realized that I needed to figure out a way to “switch off” at the end of the day so that I was recharged to deliver my best the next morning.

Every day at the ICRC gives me an opportunity to help people. The key is to focus on what I can do, and not on things that I might not be able to.

Which assignment/experience has left the deepest impression?  

During my mission in South Sudan, there was one particular instance where we had to quickly set up a mobile surgical team after a massive attack left almost 1,000 people wounded. We immediately flew in the medics and the equipment and set up a hospital in the middle of nowhere. The staff, almost 25 of us, were living in tents, sharing minimal facilities and surviving on one bucket of water a day. But watching people get the lifesaving medical help was enough to keep us going despite the difficult circumstances.

"In situations like these, it’s your flexibility that comes in handy – either you adapt, or you leave. There’s no in-between."

What is the most difficult aspect of your work?  

While our mandate is very clear to us, but it might not be for the parties to the conflict. So, we reiterate our mandate and scope of work at every given opportunity. This sounds very basic, but it is vital to how we function so that we can manage expectations and also maintain our independence and neutrality. We constantly tread the line between listening and emphasizing what we can and cannot do. We stick to our ground, and this makes me incredibly proud of being a part of the ICRC.

What’s it like talking to weapon bearers?

We have to remember that no matter who they are, they are human beings first and foremost. This human-to-human connection is what helps us all reach a common understanding.

Practically speaking, what do you do in the field?

In all the three missions so far, my days have consisted of constant dialogue with all parties to the conflict, coordination with field officers so that we can reach and support the people in need, ensuring safety of my colleagues and all delegates and identifying the need for humanitarian action.

Despite it being a very fulfilling career, there must be surely some things that you miss.

I miss the everyday, normal stuff – the little things that we take for granted. For instance, I miss walking into the neighbourhood café for a cup of coffee. These days, I miss my favourite shampoo! It’s always the little things.

What does working with the ICRC mean to you?

The ICRC has access to places and people that other organizations don’t. This makes the work unique and exciting. While our mandate stays the same, every country and context is very different, thus keeping us agile in how we work. Whenever there is a need, we quickly jump into action and our focus stays on extending all necessary help, as per our mandate.