Humanitarian Aid Officer, Geneva, Switzerland

These days it's really easy to follow friends on Facebook and get sort of invested in their journey. Rachel's updates always fascinated me. She has been in the thick of it, working in Haiti, traveled all over, has a beautiful baby girl (whom I absolutely adore from afar and never actually met). She recently moved to Switzerland to start a new life for herself and her daughter. Over five years in Haiti and now Geneva. How on earth does one adjust, I wondered? She ran a small scale, but successful, operation in Haiti and now works with an amazing organization, hence the Geneva move. GAVIfocuses on ensuring improved childhood immunisation coverage in developing countries as well as access to new vaccines. Rachel is responsible for Pakistan and Haiti as her territories of focus. I'm glad we got to meet in one place, chat and take photos. Below is the latest WOW woman story.

1. Name.

Rachel Belt.

2. Where is your hometown?

No hometown (military brat). I was born in Connecticut and graduated high school in Seattle.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

Manager focused in humanitarian affairs - health and child protection.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?

I knew in high school I wanted to work abroad in public health and at Columbia pursued both pre-medical and international affairs. I took a real interest in my public health classes and began interning with Doctors Without Borders. I found myself reading everything I could and attending as many lectures as possible. Love of a subject is really a good way to start a career. I started field work in Uganda with another agency a few months after graduating and felt the work was as meaningful and exciting as I hoped it would be. I was working in very rural communities, writing the history of an HIV study. I learned a lot from the Ugandans about how they perceived the interventions in the community. Much of this knowledge, I would rely on years later in Haiti. On the return from Uganda I worked for IAVI, an organization developing an HIV vaccine which was full of incredibly smart people from a variety of backgrounds. I appreciated the focused mission which is something many agencies can lose site of. Following the earthquake in Haiti, I felt really strongly that I wanted to be a part of the reconstruction effort and I left a few months later, and worked in a Red Cross funded hospital in the capital. I left briefly to finish a masters in humanitarian management and did my research on trafficking with the child protection agency. I then worked as a consultant for the Haitian Prime Minister and when he resigned, became the Coutnry Director of Project Medishare which works both in rural communities in the mountains and with the same hospital in Port au Prince. It was an incredible few years and I feel a strong connection to the country after working there for five + years. I now work for Gavi, an organization which is focused on immunisation, in their country support department working with Pakistan and Haiti.

5. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?

I often confuse difficulty with accomplishment and returning to Haiti after having Angelina and taking over a Country Director position was a real challenge but such a rich part of my life.

6. Advice for other women?

I really believe that everyone can contribute to improving the community around them and that our biggest limitation is people feel shy or hesitant about taking an interesting idea forward or picking up work that fills a real need for others. Do not put limits on yourself.

7. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

None, lol. I love my work so much that I find myself pursuing side projects consistently. I relax by spending time in new places with my daughter and being on the beach.

8. What is the future goal/challenge (career and/or life goals in 5-10 years)?

I would love to continue to focus my career in child health and protection. I most enjoy working directly with communities and children. In the past I have alternated between positions where I contribute to the global conversation on different topics and getting experience in places like Haiti which can inform those conversations. On a day to day level, working with a team of a diverse backgrounds for a good cause is so enjoyable and rewarding.

9. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

A very  very common one! That I cannot properly balance motherhood and a career :)

10. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life)?


11. What inspires you?

I am often inspired by coworkers and I like to read biographies. 

I am driven by the high an unjust inequality I have seen around and the strength of people who are in such difficult circumstances. Once you realize the common humanity between everyone, it makes other's positions in areas of poverty or violence absolutely unacceptable.

12. What are you hopeful about?

I do feel that our generation is very socially conscious and I look forward to the time when we begin to have more political positions. I also feel that the world is getting better and the development field is increasingly more professional.

13. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

House of the Spirits is a long time favourite. Recent favs were Homegoing, Island beneath the sea, the comedians and All the Light We Cannot See

14. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?

My mother who "did it all" - managed raising three of us, working and going to school. I have such fun childhood memories and hope Angelina has the same.

15. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?