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Paid and Unpaid Work with USAID Providing Humanitarian Aid Abroad

My alarm went off at six in the morning. Today I was visiting United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project sites along the Afghan-Uzbek border and I didn’t want to be late.

Part of my job with USAID is to introduce U.S. assistance programs to conservative village leaders, many of them mullahs and imams. Every day USAID provides medical training to rural nurses and doctors, civic education textbooks to poor schools, and food aid in regions struck by drought and poverty. These humanitarian efforts go unnoticed by millions, overshadowed by other aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

As part of a broader outreach strategy, the USAID mission in Central Asia conducts bus tours with Islamic leaders to show them the work America is undertaking in their community. My job is to visit the sites, put together a schedule, and then arrange the logistics for the tour. Then on the day of the tour I help to explain to participants what USAID is doing in their communities and, more importantly, why.

Getting the Job

While a large percentage of jobs with USAID in overseas missions are with the Foreign Service, many positions are filled by Personal Service Contractors (PSCs). These contracts run for a limited amount of time, in contrast with career-track Foreign Service positions. For example, my job was advertised as a locally-hired PSC, for candidates already living in Kazakhstan, where USAID’s Central Asia regional mission is located. Alternatively, some personal service contracts are advertised internationally—these include greater benefits, like housing, and moving expenses.

If you are already living abroad, email the U.S. Embassy’s Community Liaison Office (CLO) and ask for a copy of their weekly newsletter, which advertises jobs with the State Department, USAID, and other U.S. Government agencies. If you are living in the U.S. and interested in competing for a position abroad, PSC jobs are advertised at FedBizOpps. You can search listings by country specific offices or alternatively search by “posted date” for the most recent USAID solicitations worldwide.

Variety of Jobs

USAID provides humanitarian and development aid in a variety of fields, including health, education, media, democracy and governance, energy, disaster relief, law, public outreach, and the economic and finance sector. Therefore, USAID seeks out employees with a wide range of experience and expertise. For example, recent PSC job listings included a Development and Outreach Specialist in Serbia and Montenegro, an Education Specialist in Jakarta, and a Governance and Election Specialist in Dhaka.

Required Skills

Each post and each job require different sets of skills, but in general USAID is looking for individuals who can quickly adapt to a foreign environment. Ability in the local language is always a plus as is experience in development or humanitarian work.

PSC vs. Foreign Service

Foreign Service Officers with USAID generally tend to move from post to post every three to four years. Officers bid on available job slots in other missions. PSCs, on the other hand, are hired for short periods in mission-specific jobs.

While the lack of job security may seem like a drawback, many individuals prefer working for USAID as contractors for several reasons. First, if you are a specialist in Latin American education policy, you may want to spend your career in specific countries. Working as a PSC allows you to bid on only certain jobs, or if you’re lucky to extend your contract a longer period of time at a post you really enjoy (Two contractors have worked here in Kazakhstan for over eight years.). Additionally, some PSCs find that they make more money as contractors than they would if they joined the Foreign Service, which has a cap on what a first-tour officer can earn.

For More Info

If you think you may be interested in working for USAID, visit their website to learn more about the work they do overseas.

Paid and unpaid USAID student internships are available, although most are in the Washington headquarters.

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