Sask. author highlights humanitarian struggle in Cambodia

A new book by Saskatchewan-born Katie Bergman discusses the need for more openness about the humanitarian worker experience overseas.

Katie Bergman writes about silent hardships of a non-profit worker overseas

Author Katie Bergman spent time in Cambodia working for a non-profit, trying to help improve the human trafficking situation. (Katie Bergman/YouTube)

Four years ago, Katie Bergman packed up her bags and moved from her small hometown of Langenburg, Sask., to Cambodia to try and help people caught in the human trafficking industry. 

Bergman, 22 at the time, signed up with a humanitarian organization and quickly got to work trying to help out. 

But she was confronted by an unexpected reality, in which she felt pressured to keep the emotions and trials from witnessing harsh conditions inside.

"I really struggled with it. I felt like it was almost a personal defect to come out and say 'I'm really having a hard time here,' " Bergman said.  

Katie Bergman's book When Justice Just Is hit the shelves in December. (Katie Bergman/YouTube)

The whole experience prompted her, now 26 and living in Winnipeg, to write a book called When Justice Just Is, which hit shelves this December. 

In her book, Bergman talks about changes that need to take place in the humanitarian and non-profit world to make sure that workers take care of themselves as well. 

Coping mechanisms

One way she recommends doing this is to develop new coping mechanisms, as the ones people use at home may not be available in a new climate. Bergman said she used to rely on running, but had to drop that in Cambodia. 

"There had been a lot of instances of women that had been dragged off and had horrible things happening to them, so a lot of my regular coping mechanisms were taken away, because I was in a completely different cultural context," she said. 

With no internet at home, or baths with hot, running water, Bergman turned to writing. 

"At the beginning, it was almost a form of therapy; a way for me to get my thoughts down. That was one of the main things that I did to take care of myself," she said. 

Drop the glamour

Bergman's book is calling for some changes that need to happen in the industry. Mostly, she takes issue with the sensationalism and glamorisation of the work the humanitarian worker does. 

Glamorising the industry, she says, makes it hard to confess when you're having a hard time. 

"It took me a long time to get to that point of confessing the brokenness that I was dealing with. But the moment that I did, it was really really empowering," she said. 

Accepting that burnout and failure can happen is key to a healthy experience, according to Bergman. 

"Ultimately we need to have discussions about the trials and triumphs, and allow humanitarians to be authentic human beings that also fear and have failures," she said. 

"I think that starts with having a conversation."