Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Stories of survivors

My how the weeks have sped past! It's a bit hard to believe, but I'll be finishing up at the end of next week! This has definitely been a challenging deployment, full of lots of surprises, but most importantly, a wonderful team of people (which is growing by the week). We've had a lot of visitors, senior staff from Kampala, from the regional office, and from HQ, as well as a huge media visit. What's great about having visitors (apart from the advice they provide) is that I usually take them to the field, and get to see more of our work in action. So I thought I'd just share a few stories.

On one visit we met a woman who had 8 children with her. She was 8.5 months pregnant, and her husband had been murdered. As had her sister. So she fled with her 4 children, and her sister's 4 children, the oldest being 15. This was the house she'd built when they'd arrived 6 months ago. All of them slept in here. Since we built them a temporary shelter, the children all sleep in that, and she stays in here with their precious food rations. She had concerns about the security of her family but she hadn't been able to convince the local committee to relocate her. Thankfully, the next day our staff were able to organise for her to move, so hopefully she has delivered her baby safely and they all feel safer now. 
We took a journalist to meet a family of three kids. The eldest, a girl who is 17, and her two younger brothers, aged 14 and 15. Their mother had died some years ago, and their father was murdered. They came which a bunch of other kids, some of them were cousins, and they started off altogether - all 17 of them. The other children were reunited with family, so now it's just the three of them. Of the meager things they managed to bring, one boy brought his school books. He wasn't at the house when we arrived as he'd gone to school, but came back during our visit as the teacher hadn't shown up.
This is what it looks like to collect water. A whole bunch of jerry cans lined up, waiting in turn to be filled. It's usually women and girls who do the water collection which can be a dangerous task when the water trucks show up late and it's dark.
Here you see a truck stuck in the mud, and our driver testing the waters, literally, to see if we could pass. Spoiler alert, we got stuck and had to be pulled out by the red truck.
I hadn't seen much of the reception centre (where people are brought to be registered, get a hot meal, spend a couple of nights, receive some items and then taken to their plot of land), but with the media crew we spent some time there. This woman really sums up the strength of South Sudanese women. She was carrying the jerry cans, tied together with string, her family's belongings on her head, and a young baby on her back. Women and children make up 82% of the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
This is the site they're taken to before they are moved to their plots. It was about an hour's drive from the reception centre, down red dirt roads (my face was covered in dirt by the time we arrived, having been behind a convoy of UN trucks) to the mini reception centre. Here, they pick up their belongings from the truck, get another hot meal, and spend another night in big shared tents. The next day, they are taken to their plot of land (which is supposed to be 50m by 50m, but is sometimes 30x30) and given some tarpaulin and poles and left to start their new lives.
The need here is so great - there are now over 1,000,000 refugees from South Sudan in Uganda, along with 300,000+ refugees from other neighbouring countries. So many come with only the clothes on their backs - I saw one girl who was in a school uniform, which she must have been wearing when it was time to leave. The stories I've mentioned above are not usual - everyone I've spoken to has lost family members, lost their livelihoods, lost everything. Some have hope that they'll go home, others have decided to concentrate on making their lives here. 

There is a ridiculous amount of need around the world at the moment, from conflict and natural disasters, so if you have the means, please consider donating to a reputable aid agency to support their work. You may not think your donation makes a difference, but believe me, when we receive money from the public, we can do a lot.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A flying visit to Kampala

On Monday I had to travel down to Kampala to attend some meetings and conduct some interviews. The European Commission's Humanitarian Office (ECHO) put on one flight a week for aid agencies delivering projects with ECHO funding. My agency has two different ECHO grants, so it's an excellent resource for us as it really saves on the travel bills! It was a nice little Dash 8, that first flew for about 20 odd minutes to Adjumani, picked up a couple more passengers, and then down to Kampala in an hour and a half or so.  

I had a nice few days in Kampala - ate all the good food I needed (sushi, Lebanese, pizza) and had some really productive time with colleagues. On Thursday morning it was time to fly back, this time with Eagle Air. I was up at 4:30am to get to the airport, and when I saw the plane....well, it was very small. It was a Beechcraft 1900, and you have to double over to walk through the cabin. 

I think this is the smallest plane I've been in - I've been in helicopters that had more room than this!!


When we landed back in Arua, the airstrip was heaving with tiny children, all on excursions to see the planes. They were all marching together and chanting their songs, and it was just adorable. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

3 weeks in Arua

So far my first three weeks in my new home have been pretty hectic...to say the least! (I just had to change the title and first sentence from 2 to 3, as I started this post a week ago!) I've managed to get out to the settlements three times, so I'm starting to get an idea of what our work looks like in practice.

At the moment I'm drowning in budget revisions, financial and narrative reports for external donors, monthly reports for internal audiences (back to writing shitreps!), and a host of other stuff that is exactly as much fun as it sounds.

But yesterday I had a great day in the field. We were delayed by these two trucks who were both stuck in the mud, completely blocking the road. Luckily there was a side road (on the left side of the photo) which we could sneak past - I took this photo once we were past them, as we were then stuck waiting for a bus to decide whether it could get safely down off the side road (which wasn't as steep as it is in the picture).
We have rented an ambulance (you can do that here) for a while to help out an over burdened health centre, and yesterday we had a handover ceremony (not much of a ceremony - there were a few of us sitting under a tree, speeches were made, hands were clapped). Hopefully it makes a difference for the complicated cases that require referral to larger health clinics; the health centre staff were really thrilled. The midwives told me that last year they delivered 1022 babies last year, and this type of health centre isn't supposed to do deliveries at all!
We then went and spoke to a group of women who had arrived from South Sudan last year. We had helped them form a 'women's group', which now has a savings and loans system, and are identifying enterprises that could help them earn an income. We sat in the church that the village had built, mud bricks and a thatched roof, which was lovely and cool, and were often interrupted by loud cows outside. We had also constructed a couple of houses last year for PSNs (People with Special Needs), so it was interesting for me to see what the design had been last year. The storm clouds were closing in, so I couldn't have a good look around, as we definitely didn't want to be caught in the rain. It has been bucketing down of late.
Today I'm back in the office, back to writing reports, checking budgets, writing recruitment test questions as we still don't have all the staff we need. It's mentally tiring (especially after not using my brain much the past 3 months!) but I'm really learning a lot.

I've been really lucky to already have a few visitors. The friend (from Australia) who had actually sent me the job description for this job turned up for a night doing an evaluation, bringing Tim Tmas and floss with her (I'd requested the floss, the Tim Tams were a lovely surprise). And two old friends who I've worked with a number of times in a number of places are based in Yumbe, a good hour's drive from here, made the trek on Sunday just to have lunch with me, which was wonderful.

It's a challenging thing to be the manager and the only expat in the team - as there's no-one that I can vent to, our share some of the problems I'm having with. Of course there are friends elsewhere who I can message to debrief with, but it's an isolating thing that I've not really experienced before. But anyways, I'll survive!!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Back in the game

Yes, it's been another long hiatus in the blogosphere for Carly. I've spent the past 3 months enjoying funemployment, mostly hanging around in Melbourne, but with a couple of fantastic trips to Japan and Sweden. But it got to a point where I needed to start seeing some money come into the bank account, so I decided it was time to go back to work. I wasn't going to really actively pursue anything too hard, I just wanted to find a 3 month deployment, as a team leader, in a different organisation to the one I'd spent the last 6 years with. A well-timed message from a friend asking if I was looking led me to sending my CV to a Regional Director, a skype chat with an HR person in Canada, and then another with the Country Director, and a week later I was on a plane to Uganda!

So here I am, for 3 months, as a response team leader, for an organisation different to the last. I'm based in Arua, which is in the north west of Uganda, a couple of hours drive from the South Sudan border. And that's why I'm here; Uganda is hosting over 1 million refugees. The vast majority are from South Sudan, but also Congo and Burundi.

Arua is an 8 hour drive from Kampala, so after a couple of days induction in the capital, I was on my way. I'll say this, being the boss definitely has its benefits...I got to sit in the front seat, while three of my colleagues were squished in the back. Apart from not being squished, I also had a front row seat (literally) to something amazing:
I'd gotten a bit excited when I spotted the baboons on the side of the road (we were driving through Murchison National Park) but was absolutely gobsmacked when I noticed one on the roof of the (moving) car in front of us, and was worried it was a goner when it jumped off...but it was fine. Seconds later, there's a baboon on the bonnet (good name for a children's book...) pawing at the glass in front of my face, while we're travelling at at least 40km/hr. It jumped onto the roof and back down onto the bonnet a couple of times, and then finally took a diagonal running leap off the front. Craziness. 

We also then saw these little guys, far less interested in harassing the cars!
We met up with some colleagues who were travelling in the opposite direction, and they said they'd seen some elephants on the side of the road. A while later, there they were in front of us. About 8, just milling around. Fred, our driver, stopped some distance away, to determine whether they wanted to cross (animals have right of way in the park), but they seemed happy just munching, so we drove past. They were all large with tusks, and just gorgeous. 
But enough about the safari! My organisation has been helping people with special needs erect the temporary shelter they're given by the UN, and we'll soon start constructing semi-permanent shelters...it's likely that these families will be here for a long time. On Thursday I visited two of the settlements, which are a couple of hours drive from Arua, and spread out over huge distances - they're not traditional refugee camps. The Ugandan government allocates newly arrived people a plot of land, then they're given some supplies and left to their own devices. So the settlements aren't dissimilar to the local villages, except for the presence of the UNHCR tarps everywhere. Some areas of the settlements had lively markets and really solid looking houses...because those refugees have been here since 2008.
We're also doing a lot of work to prevent and treat Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Reproductive and Maternal Health, and I'm looking forward to learning more about that.

I think it's going to be a really interesting few months. There's about 30 odd staff working on the response (some are based in Arua, some are in a town called Yumbe close to the settlements) and there's a lot of work to be done. There's also a couple of key positions that are still being recruited, so I think I'll be doing the work of about 3 people for a while!

And I realised something cool this morning, Uganda is the 50th country I've visited - quite the milestone! :-)

Friday, December 30, 2016

So, about 2016...

Ay yay yay. I sort of realised it had been a while since I'd written anything here, but I didn't think it had been a year!!

It's been a pretty good year for little old me. It started off nicely with a few different visits from international friends, and it was lovely playing tour guide in and around Melbourne. February brought my first work trip of the year to Papua New Guinea, which is pretty spectacular to fly into.
I managed to squeeze in a weekend with Jez while he still lived in Moresby, but then thankfully it was up to the highlands to Goroka, where the scenery is stunning, and a few degrees cooler. It was great to see some of the work the team had done during the drought response.
March brought me another visitor and we spent a couple of days on Phillip Island, which immediately had me researching to see if I could buy a beach house there!
If you're looking for something interesting, google Captain William Grossard - this guy had quite the story, and it certainly kept us entertained while we were there.
April saw me back in a place I never thought I'd go again, Honiara in the Solomon Islands. We had a bit of a reshuffle of portfolios at work and I took on the Sols since I have a history there. It was nice to catch up with the team and go for a couple of dives. 


In May, something amazing finally happened....
I finally bought my own place! I moved in June and am completely besotted. I am the proud owner of 2 bedrooms in a suburb that in perhaps 5 years will be the most happening place to be. But for now, it's got everything I need, it takes me about the same amount of time to get to work as when I lived 8kms closer, and I'm just so happy when I walk in the door and see all the bits and pieces I've collected on my travels on display. When July came around I hosted my first dinner party and the table I've held on to (read: Mum and Dad have held on to) since I left Canberra in 2007 finally had some people around it! 
August saw another trip to PNG and then a stopover at home for a few days while my brother and his fiance were there. Greg then came down to Melbourne for a few days, and the weather was a bit of a shock. Melbourne winter seemed to last 5 months this year which I wasn't impressed by at all. Also in August, I started karate which is super fun, I managed to get my red belt (i.e. the first coloured belt) before Christmas so I'm excited to get back into in the new year and see how many more belts I can get in 2017! :-) 

September was a pretty quiet month, which I needed. 2016 was the year that finally saw me watch not one, but TWO games of AFL. Jez took me to a couple of games, I'm now a Geelong supporter (which means I tell people I support Geelong but probably won't ever watch another game!) and it was pretty cool to go to the MCG to see them play. 

October was a big month. I spent 2 weeks in Jordan for work, doing some monitoring of a super cool recycling project in Za'atari Camp which was very impressive, and I did an evaluation of an innovation project to do with accountability in the camp. I'd not done an evaluation before so it was definitely a learning experience, but probably not something I'd seek out again. The report was published which was very cool. 
This greenhouse, made from old plastic bottles, is being used to test out which plants grow best in the conditions in Za'atari. 

It was interesting to go back to Za'atari camp some 3.5 years after I was last there. The population has decreased to about 70,000 odd, (when I was first there it was about 120,000!) so the camp felt less crowded, and more organised. But it was sobering to know that some of those families had been there for years, that the little kids tottling around had been born there, and that they're not going anywhere in the near future. Very very sad.  

But to cheer myself up after those 2 weeks I took a week off and went to Lebanon, and who should meet me there, but Ingebjorg and Yassmin!!! YEA!!! And also, Emma is working there now so three of my favourite people in the world were there at the same time with me! 
And we had a lovely reunion with our old UNRWA friends in Batroun by the sea, which was just marvellous. A week of checking out our old haunts and discovering new fantastic places to eat and drink (because that's what you do in Beirut!) was just what the doctor ordered! I spent a grand total of 30 hours in my house after leaving the Middle East and was then back on a plane for another visit to the Solomons. Ay yay yay, October was exhausting! 

November brought my parents down to visit for the first time, and they were incredibly helpful in doing things like, putting up floating shelves, deciding where to hang things on walls, painting the outside toilet (yes, I have an outside toilet as well as an inside toilet!), gardening, and all sorts of other bits and pieces. Just in time for my housewarming party!
Late in the month brought an epic fail of a PNG trip, and then there was another visit to the Sols in early December. 2016 was the first year in a very long time that I didn't go to a new country, but I will most definitely rectify that in 2017. 

One of the other great things I've done this year is a reading challenge which I found here. It's been a great way to read books I would never normally read, and when I finish the last book (which I'll do tomorrow), I will have read over 40 books and 13,000 pages. Highlights have been "The 13.5 Lives of Captain Bluebear" by Walter Moers, "Candide" by Voltaire, "The Chyrsalids" by John Wyndham, and "The Last Viking" by Stephen R. Brown (a biography of Roald Amundsen). I'm looking to finding the 2017 challenge and getting cracking on that! 

Looking back it has been a pretty big year, but in a relatively stable way. It's been so nice to have my own little corner of the world to hang out in (I really did hibernate in winter) and have plenty of time to spend doing whatever I wanted to do. 

As for what 2017 will bring, well I have a job until the end of March, and then we'll see!! 

Hope you all have a safe, happy and healthy new year!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The three years of 2015

Right, so I'm pretty much the worst blogger huh. It's been a big year for Carly. I was talking to a friend the other day about the paradox of how while it's crazy that this year is over already, I do feel like I've lived 3 lives in this year. So let me reflect on the three years of 2015 in my world - this is a super long post, and I haven't re-read it, so please excuse any grammatical errors...

Year One

Three months in Sierra Leone. You can just scroll down to the next couple of posts to read about that, because that was the last time I wrote. Whoops. It took quite a while to process all that had happened in Sierra Leone, but I'm so glad I went. After I finished up there, I headed to Oxford for a night to catch up with some old friends, and then jumped on a train to Shrewsbury, in Shropshire (you have to click on that link, trust me) to visit my dear friend Jane.

As luck would have it, Jane was heading to Ebolaland herself so we only had a few days together and it was lovely getting to know her part of the world, right on the river Severn.
After Jane was confident that I'd found my bearings (and because she had flights booked) she left me to house and cat sit and take over her life for a week which was brilliant! I had a lot of fun hanging out with Bob, who's a very clever cat:
I also took the neighbour's dog for a walk which was a super fun way of seeing the great outdoors
And Jane had organised her lovely friends to take me to a ukulele group (I'd never really played before, but it's very easy to pick up), and out to the pub which was incredibly nice. I really had a fantastic time and Shrewsbury is such a charming place to visit. I highly recommend it. 

I stopped off in Oxford again for a couple of nights and then made the long journey home to start Year Two...

Early in the year my uncle Peter passed away. Peter had lived in Williamstown in Melbourne, for the last 40 years, and it was decided that I was in the best position to execute his Will and finalise his estate. It was a big job, to say the least. After spending 40 years in the same house there was understandably a lot to sort through, and it was a sad, and interesting way to get to know my uncle a lot better. 

Williamstown is a wonderful place to live, it's like a little village, just across the bay from Melbourne City. I really enjoyed being so close to the water, and going for walks along the waterfront. What I didn't enjoy was the coldest winter in 20+ years...that was incredibly difficult coming from West Africa!
After spending a month getting rid of a lot of stuff I was able to put the house on the market, and in just a few days...
this lovely 150 year old house, which was once the Flagmaster's Cottage, was sold to a nice family who will turn it into something wonderful. It was a huge weight off my shoulders to get it sold, though it took another few months living there, to find new homes for Peter's belongings. Executing a Will is not an easy task, and those months that make up Year Two of 2015 were quite stressful, but I'm proud of myself for getting everything sorted in the end. 

I did take a little break from the Victorian winter, and escaped home to Queensland for a couple of weeks, and then, more excitingly, went to Papua New Guinea with Em to visit Jez! Yea!! 
We spent a couple of days in Port Moresby, the capital, hanging out with Jez. There are a few touristy things to do there, like the Bomana War Cementary, which is beautifully maintained
and the Port Moresby Nature Park, where we looked at cool wildlife like tree kangaroos (no CusCus though unfortunately) and cassowaries and took stupid photos like this
We temporarily said goodbye to Jez and headed for paradise, aka Tawali Resort. I'm understating it when I say paradise, it was truly some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever encountered. This was the view from our balcony

This is a pic of the house reef...as in, the reef that surrounds the hotel, that is right there in front of you all the time! 
And now here are a number of photos I took with my awesome new camera while I was scuba diving and snorkelling...
It was an incredible few days, and I highly recommend Tawali to anyone who likes being in paradise. 

We had a couple of days back in Moresby with Jez and did more touristy things like visiting Parliament House, and the National Museum
 and on our last day, we convoyed up a mountain to the Koitaki Country Club, which was an hour or so out of Moresby, and completely different scenery. The roads were a little precarious, but the views were spectacular. 
It was a wonderful holiday to distract me from the challenges of Year Two. I wouldn't say you should all rush out and book tickets to PNG right now, but it was definitely an experience. 

Year Three began in September when I finally started the job I've been trying to get in Melbourne for about two years now. I'm working in an international NGO's head office in Melbourne in a humanitarian role. I will be doing some travelling, but so far the only trip I've done was up to Sydney for a day, and I've been really enjoying just establishing a routine and beginning to live a 'normal' life. I'm renting a room in one of the coolest suburbs in Melbourne, while I look for my own place to buy. What I've loved about Year Three of 2015 is that it's been relatively calm, both professionally and personally, which sets it apart from the rest of the year! 

Having spent the last hour or more typing this up, I think I'm now ready to say goodbye to 2015. I'm really looking forward to more adventures in 2016, and hope you all have a safe and happy new year! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finishing up

I've been bad again. Sorry. I still have to put up some reflections on the three weeks I spent in Bombali district, which while it was easier for living, was just as challenging work wise as Kumala was. I'll get around to that at some point.

I'm leaving Sierra Leone tomorrow morning. I was supposed to be hanging out on a little island off Freetown this week, but a decision was made that I shouldn't go as I had malaria last week (it was really awful, but I'm fine now) and there were concerns I'd get sick again. I remain fit as a fiddle and annoyed that I'm not on an island, but ah well. I'm going to the UK to take my leave there (since I've not taken a day of leave in 3 months!) before heading home, so that will be nice too.

So I'm trying to reflect back on this response, which has been so unlike anything I've done before for any number of reasons. The work was challenging. As a first time programme manager, particularly as the roving programme manager, I was expected to quickly take over an office, understand what the teams were doing, sort out any problems, represent the programme externally, and all sorts of other things, without knowing all of the ins and outs the normal PM would know. So that was challenging to say the least - the learning curve was incredibly steep, but very interesting as well.

Living in Kumala was difficult. I look back on it fondly now, but at the time the heat, the food, the noise, the mice, the long hours 7 days a week, the stress, all added up to a very tough time for me. And perhaps the hardest part of this response is that you can't just get hug when you've had a tough day - the no touch policy remains in place.

On the up side, I've really learnt a lot: about management, about myself, about ebola. And also on the upside, I was reunited with so many old friends here, which was absolutely wonderful.

We're still not at 0 cases in Sierra Leone - I had really thought when I got here that I'd be here to see that milestone reached, but unfortunately there are still some sporadic cases popping up. Ebola has ravaged this country, and it will take a long time to recover from it. I've enjoyed so much working with my Sierra Leonean colleagues, all so determined to play their part in ending ebola, as well as speaking with people in communities affected by ebola, whose strength and resilience have been really inspiring.

I can't wait to come back to Salone a few years from now, and experience it for the vibrant, musical, wonderful country I'm sure it was, and will be again.