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  • INSMS International Network for Students of Migration Studies

Coordinator of Restoring Family Links at Red Cross Brazil

We were talking to Ariel Denise Pontes Afonso from Brazil, and she shared some insight on how it is to work for the biggest international humanitarian organisation in the world, and how it is all about training and networking!

Ariel is 26, and is a graduate of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. She currently works at the Rio de Janeiro branch of the Red Cross as a Coordinator of Restoring Family Links Ties:

“Restoring Family Links Ties is a program that aims to significantly help victims of armed conflicts, disasters, adverse situations, migration, refuge or forced displacement to get in touch with their families and acquaintances. It also acts in the search for missing persons and in the prevention of disappearances, especially in emergency and disaster situations.”

Her normal working day does not have a specific routine, which is why every day looks different, and brings versatile tasks. Her tasks vary from welcoming immigrants or refugees in need of donations of basic items, helping with documentation for migratory regularisation, making legal referrals to the Federal Migration Police, searching for people in case of disappearance, and conducting first-aid training in immigrant communities in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

When we ask her whether it was easy to find a job, she says it was not easy but she always was aware of her capacities, and the scope of her ability to help. She strongly highlights the importance of passion and volunteering:

“As I have never doubted my passion for this area, one thing I advise is to volunteer in some humanitarian institution, because this will without a doubt give you extensive wisdom and learning experience. While I was still studying, I joined the Psychology volunteer team of the Brazilian Red Cross - Rio de Janeiro State Branch.”

One of her life goals is to raise awareness about the need for psychology in emergency and disaster settings, and about the importance of debating more about the process of migration, displacement, and refuge in Brazil. As she knows that a lot still needs to be done in Brazil on these topics, she decided to contribute to it in her home country rather than moving abroad.


During her studies, she focused on networking in order to enhance her chances in the labour market. She gathered contacts and LinkedIn connections in order to interact with people working in the same field, and access to events and courses. Her advice is to first set up a goal for your profile, and decide what is your niche of action:

“Migration, humanitarian crisis, psychology? Then, make an attractive biography that is not very extensive, add courses and certificates that you have already participated in, companies you worked with, and your positions. After defining your niche of expertise, biography and so on, it is time to seek in the network people who own my niches of action. Therefore, it is important to put keywords in your profile like "Migration/ Psychology / Human Resources / Red Cross". By doing that, LinkedIn itself will suggest better connections with these people.”

She also emphasises that you need to be active on the platform - comment on posts, keep your own posts active, use hashtags, send messages to people who can be relevant for your experience whenever you can, and set up calls with people to talk about your performances.

As her university did not offer any solid basis in the field she was interested in, she did it all herself, and actively searched for opportunities to get appropriate training. A tip she shares is: “Even if your college does not give you the complete tools, try to take the learning process out of the classroom.”

We also share some of the sources Ariel found at the bottom of the page.

After she graduated, she enrolled in the graduate program focused on psychology in emergency and disaster settings, searched for groups for migration, and studies in the emergency context. The biggest challenge she was faced with was that despite having studied psychology, there were no specific courses on migration and humanitarian crises. When she graduated, these topics had only just entered a public debate in Rio de Janeiro. To overcome these obstacles, she took some action on her own:

“First I wrote down my priorities, and then I started asking myself whether it would be worth working on something that is not a great fit for me but would present an opportunity to get well trained before I get back to my field. And the answer was yes. So I worked in the Human Resources field for a year, and tried to take several courses on emergency and migration issues until I felt prepared to be totally focused on my main career field.”

This brought her to what she describes as a “lifetime achievement”, working for the largest humanitarian organisation in the world. She believes that working for the Red Cross means having the real dimension of the populations, and contact with various beliefs, diversities, realities, and cultures. The work combines dealing with extreme vulnerabilities on a daily basis, and at the same time making a difference in the lives of many people:

“To be able to deliver a basic basket or just give a hug and receive in return the most sincere smile and thanks from the person. That is the reason why working in the biggest humanitarian organization is working with real life!”

More unity and connectedness

She does have some thoughts on which changes she would like to see in the migration field careers: “We could be more united, we should occupy political spaces, and show how necessary it is to have effective public policies that give total guarantees to the migrants in the Brazilian states.”

She also believes that what strengthens the migration network are countless live events, lectures, and online courses since we are able to reach a large number of people that are interested in the topic of migration, and can help further strengthen the whole field.

Tips for success

“Get trained! If you have the opportunity, take all the courses that are available. And don't forget to network!”

Sources for courses

The International Federation of Red Cross has a website with several free courses on the subject ( AND (

For Brazil, Ariel suggests some authors and projects:

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