10 Minutes With: International Aid Worker, Linda Cruse
Meet international aid worker, Linda Cruse, the ultimate humanitarian hell bent on changing the world forever.
30 Second CV
Name: Linda Cruse
Location: Born in the UK, but my patch is the world
Current Title/Company: International Humanitarian Worker and Disaster Recovery Specialist
Educational Background: State Registered Nurse, Senior Fellow and Entrepreneur in Residence at Canterbury University New Zealand
The Real Deal
Brief overview of what you do:
I am a frontline international aid worker and disaster management specialist of 15 years, author of Marmalade and Machine Guns, inspirational speaker, creator of the Emergency Zen thought leadership series and social entrepreneur. My humanitarian aid work has taken me to every continent in the world where I have assisted in some of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters such as the Asian tsunami, the Pakistani earthquake, two Philippine super-typhoons and, currently, the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, as well as aiding challenged communities worldwide. I am also a qualified nurse and magician.
Can you describe your job in 3-5 words?
My mission is to re-empower people who are experiencing the most challenging situations by giving them ‘a hand up not a hand out’.
Do you have a weekday morning routine?
Before I get out of bed in the morning I say ‘thank you’. After many years of living on the edge without running water, a bed or electricity, a sense of gratitude is deep within me and is the only way I can start my day.
What does a typical day at your desk look like?
‘Typical’ is not in my vocabulary. I don’t have a desk and am rarely in any form of building. Each day is totally different. Even my mode of transport varies enormously: it could be a camel, yak, canoe, motorbike or foot. I am often called a cross between Florence Nightingale and Indiana Jones, because my days, weeks, and months move between extremes: from a refugee camp where if you breathe deeply you will vomit, to having a calm relaxed cup of tea at the palace. I am a broker who moves between two very different worlds, harnessing the business skills and power of one for the benefit of the other.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
That is a tough question, as in my line of work putting a smile back on the face of a child who has lost everything is like winning an Oscar. And having been on the frontline for 15 years, I have had so many wonderful moments like this. But if I had to highlight one it was being part of a team that shared three basic health messages to nomad Tibetan families high up in the Himalayas, statistically saving hundreds, possibly thousands, of babies lives. The nomads were using the same knife to cut yak meat as they were to cut the umbilical cord.
Your job – the good, the bad, the ugly:
The good: I have learnt the meaning of unconditional love, strength, forgiveness, courage and compassion from unconventional teachers: an 11 year old tsunami survivor who lost not only her parents and siblings, but also her teacher, her home and most of her friends; a 16 year Burmese refugee blown up by a landmine, left blind with no legs, surviving in a no mans land camp, not welcome in his host country, never able to return to his own. My list of teachers is endless. And along the way I have also imbued the wisdom of indigenous visionaries – Amazonian shamans, Tibetan lamas and Indian gurus.
The bad: With great regularity I have little or no access to clean running water, reliable electricity, dependable food supplies, a comfy bed, a hot shower or a safe shelter. All of these things I used to take for granted. I don’t now.
The ugly: I have lost a few lives, escaped from a rebel army, evaded rape, been wrongfully arrested, been held at gunpoint, survived severe altitude sickness and hypothermia, and had my face slashed open, having to stitch myself up in the absence of medical help. Much of my work is also carried out with the backdrop of parental anxiety – my son regularly finding himself on the frontline with his regiment in Afghanistan.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
My nursing matron gave me the best advice. I once became totally overwhelmed and emotional when I had to share with parents that their child had just died. Matron gently took me aside and told me, “It’s not about you nurse. You are here to serve and contribute.”
My second piece of advice was from my Dad: “Buy experiences not things”. You will still be talking about the camel ride in the desert long after the Gucci shoes are out of date.
What would you say to your twenty year old self with the benefit of hindsight?
Do not follow the crowd. There is no public path. Keep searching for your purpose; the clues are always in your passion. Don’t take a job you know deep down is not right for you just for the money. Happiness and kindness should always be your focus.
Who are your role models?
My parents who have compassion, love, kindness and fun running through every aspect of their lives. They have served their community since they were 16 years old, starting out as Scout leaders and still driving ‘old’ people to hospital, despite both being 85 years old. They taught me to be curious about life, to love differences, to travel and explore the world. They encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and not be afraid of the unknown.
Other role models include great humanitarians such as Sir Richard Branson and HRH The Prince of Wales – both of whom are passionate about giving challenged communities a business-led sustainable hand up.
How do you relax and recharge?
Playing with my grandchildren – mud, paint, sand, water. Lots of giggles and fun. Absolute bliss. Leaves me ready for anything.
Complete this statement: I feel most powerful when wearing____ my head torch, as it means whatever I have to do I am hands free – and in my world that is very useful!
What social or political issues matter most to you?
Forgotten families. The media defines a disaster, and once they have moved on from covering a major catastrophe (approx. 8 weeks) the world thinks that the problems have been resolved. Recovery takes time. The people may have survived but are unable to thrive again without continued assistance. Hence my mantra, ‘a hand up not a hand out’. I focus on livelihood recovery, getting survivors back earning money with small businesses, restoring their self esteem, dignity and independence. This can take up to two years.
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, who would it be (and what would you order)?
The Queen. For 63 years she has served her people with courage, warmth and steadfastness. Her Majesty has carried out the job she was ‘given’ with grace and dedication. I would savour every mouthful on the plate, no matter what I was served.
To learn more about Linda’s outstanding work and adventures, please visit www.lindacruse.com.