Heading to the field for a humanitarian assignment? You’re probably going to be far from your loved ones, working long and very stressful hours, and sometimes spending extended stretches of time where infrastructure or insecurity limits your options for entertainment or socialising.
We asked our colleagues from all over the world about the apps they use to stay sane, fit, and informed. Here are our top choices!
Sure, we all know about Facebook, Instagram, Skype, and WhatsApp. Here are some other standouts:
- Marco Polo: Similar to messaging services like WhatsApp, you can trade videos with friends and family over the world. Marco Polo is free and got a boost as some American celebrities praised it on their social media. ‘It’s useful when the time difference is awful for real time chats,’ said one of our team members in Bangladesh. ‘And it doesn’t save data to my phone and take up space.’
- TimeBuddy: This app tracks the time zones of your friends and removes the mystery in calculating time differences between places like Switzerland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan. ‘I can create groups of friends, family, and co-workers,’ wrote one colleague. ‘When I’m trying to schedule a catch-up, I know which time zones people are living in in relation to mine. And it’s free!’
Of all the apps that were recommended, the widest variety was for those that are useful in the field. We use calculators, mobile banking apps, and QR readers – and even diagnostic tools, project management apps and, yes, Twitter!
- Medical guideline apps like the MSF medical guidelines or WHO pocket e-book for hospital care for children. These handy apps mean users can easily find the latest recommended guidelines and information that may be needed by health workers in remote locations. ‘These apps keep all the information on your phone, so you don’t need the internet to look things up. It’s great to have in the field,’ wrote a colleague in Afghanistan.
- Asana: This project management app allows multiple users to see to-do lists and project plans shared by a project manager. ‘It’s very helpful to have software that helps with project management that can be used collaboratively with a team,’ wrote one colleague. ‘It helps keep me organised (a bit more).’
- Twitter: We were surprised by how often our colleagues cited Twitter as useful for field work. While some find the popular micro-blogging app useful for the very 2021 activity of doomscrolling, others keep an eye on politics and security in rapidly changing environments. This comes with the important caveat, of course, to check your sources!
Our teams had a lot to say about the apps they use to stay entertained, keep laughing, and take their minds off work after a busy day. Almost everybody mentioned video and music streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, as well as various language learning apps like Duolingo or Babbel. The apps below were also recommended to help pass the time.
E-book apps like Kindle or Kobo. A lot of people recommended E-book apps for various reasons, but our favourite recommendation came from a colleague in South Sudan: ‘Kindle is the mobile knowledge source of any and all books that the world holds. Want to read about potatoes? Kindle. Want to read about your favourite war journalist? Kindle. Want to read about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? Kindle. Read about frogs? Kindle. Bless UP.’
Sudoku: The popular numbers game was noted by of our staff as being a way to mentally distract themselves away from aid work. An added bonus, as noted by one of our colleagues: ‘It’s a nice mental game to feel like I’m not wasting time on my phone as I’m wasting time on my phone.’
Woody: Like Tetris, this simple game gives users differently shaped blocks on a grid and challenges them to create straight lines that are then deleted. Asked to describe what she loved most about it, one colleague simply said, ‘It’s glorious.’
PartyQs: Many of our teams have spent COVID-19 lockdowns together, and – as many of us know – it can become difficult to find new things to talk about. ‘PartyQs is a great conversation starter when you’ve spent a lot of time with the same group of people,’ wrote one colleague.
When you don’t have access to a gym or areas to work out, try using an app to stay fit.
Running apps like Strava or Nike Run Club frequently made the list. ‘Running helps clear my head after a long day, but sometimes a lot of days I don’t want to go,’ wrote one respondent. ‘Using a running app helps me create goals that I need to remember to work towards and motivates me to actually get out when all I really want to do is just watch TV.’
Aid work can be incredibly stressful, and finding healthy ways to stay connected and listen to your body can make a world of difference when it comes to managing the pressure of field life. We asked our colleagues for their recommendations for apps that did just this, and this was what they recommended.
Meditation apps such as Headspace or Sanvello. These apps offer both guided and unguided mediations to let go of daily stresses, manage anxiety, and track important habits like healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and connecting with others.
Faith-based apps that allow for the reading of holy texts or offer assistances in prayer. ‘Sometimes you just don’t have the luggage space to carry a big book,’ wrote one respondent. ‘Having the guidance I need in an app is priceless.’
Did we miss any must-have app recommendations? Let us know on our Facebook page. And don’t forget – we are always looking for driven and dedicated professionals to join our humanitarian teams today. Check out our list of vacancies and apply here for our next (virtual) ROC.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.