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  • INSMS International Network for Students of Migration Studies

Project Coordinator at the Centre for Peace Studies

This week Maddalena shares with us how it is to work for an NGO. She found her place at a Croatian NGO that shares the same values, and enables her to create a better world for all - nevertheless, she says we should pay more attention to reducing precarious working conditions that usually exist within the NGO sector, and think of offering more support to workers in the migration field to prevent burnouts.

Maddalena is 29, and comes from Trieste. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, and has completed MIREES - Research and Studies on Eastern Europe, a joint master's degree issued by four partner universities (Bologna, Kaunas, Zagreb and Saint Petersburg), with a focus on post-Jugoslav space. She currently works at the Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) in Zagreb, Croatia, as a project officer. CPS is a nongovernmental organisation that works horizontally through three programmes: Combating inequalities, Peace education and non violence affirmation, and Asylum, integration and human security. Within the latter, Maddalena is coordinating several projects focusing on different aspects of refugees’ lives and challenges, from access to asylum to everyday challenges a person faces in Croatia as their new home. At her work, she uses different methods - direct work, activism, advocacy, research, and education.

Her work methods also keep her work days very versatile:

“What I love about my job is that each working day looks different. I like to mix different methods of work and different topics and aspects. One day you are writing a project proposal, the other day you are discussing with colleagues and other activists or organisations on advocacy strategies, another day you travel at conferences and panels.”

She says she loves her work and the complexity of the topic but that it is sometimes hard to keep on going without getting frustrated with the world that does not give the right importance to human rights or integration processes.

Maddalena says it was hard to make the CPS THE place to work at, as the NGO world is quite precarious. When she started gravitating towards the CPS, there were no financial opportunities for another employee to come on board. She joined a volunteering programme that was partially paid, and with that support she succeeded to be financially independent for some time. Even though during her studies she did not specifically focus on migration studies, her activism focused on the topics even before she started studying. Her current position thus relates to her values: “a non-hierarchical organisation that shares my values and vision, and a collective of people that wants to make this a better world to live in.”

Politically active exchange opportunities

She says that during her studies her lectures and all the university-related activities represented less than 50% of her daily routine:

“I was involved in political collectives in the cities where I was studying, I had part-time jobs, I was reading and discussing a lot with my friends about political issues. In 2015, at the time of the long summer of migration, I was often volunteering in border areas and supporting people and their fight for their freedom of movement. Not a typical way to perceive your Erasmus period, right?”

She had the opportunity to dedicate 6 months to thesis writing. She decided to look for internships that would allow her to be financially independent and have time for proper research time and writing. That is how she got in touch with her current collective at the CPS, where she wrote her thesis on Frontex and border management with the support of colleagues who were working on asylum, migration and human security issues.

Immediately after graduating, Maddalena packed her stuff, and went for a long trip to Thailand and Myanmar. There she met the communities living at the border between the two countries, and while her friend was volunteering at a medical clinic, she spent a lot of time in Maesot, border region between Thailand and Myanmar, getting to know all the challenges of being a marginalised and discriminated community, living at the border between two militarised countries.

Frustrations of job search

When she came back to Croatia, she spent some time learning the Croatian language, and a lot of time struggling with the job search:

“I felt lost. I saw those five years of studies as useless and counterproductive for my further development as a woman, as a person. I have written thousands of job applications, and the answers which were rarely coming were all negative, without further explanation.”

The answer to her struggles was next door - the CPS. Getting an opportunity there was special to her also because of her perception of work in general. She says she is definitely not a fan of idealising your job as a place where she finds the meaning of life and her being. She has a feeling the values and activism she aligns with do not fit that well with the world around her, but she they definitely fit with the CPS:

“An NGO where work is not only work, where passion and determination and motivation for a better place for all is advocated on a daily basis through direct work, research, activism, educational programmes.”

This is also why she works in Croatia - being in the right place at the right time. She says that as a migrant worker she found it hard to navigate bureaucracy and regulations, and she got a lot of support from her colleagues. She often had to push hard and fight for her rights as a worker, and insist on getting support from the state, which can be very frustrating.

In the migration field in general she wants to see reforms in the whole asylum system, as it is currently based on victimisation and infantilization of people who seek international protection:

“A truly solidary system should be put in place, to provide support and truly make people safe and at home again, after fleeing from wars and threats in the country where they lived. It’s an opportunity to improve conditions for the locals as well: improve healthcare, welfare state, education system, for all people living in those communities. Some concepts should also be demystified: the right to move and migrate should be a right for all.”

As far as the jobs in the migration field are concerned, she believes that we should pay more attention to burnout prevention and psychosocial support. She also highlights the need to reduce the precarious working conditions, which are often the experience of people working for NGOs.

Tips for success

“Keep your passion alive, find the right balance between your work time and your private time, don’t be afraid to be creative and think outside the box!”

*INSMS is always looking for interesting career paths of former migration students. If you would like to share your professional history with the network, please contact us by email:, Subject: P2P campaign

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