Field work and insecurity

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Today we would like to pay tribute to OCHA field staff and discuss some of the stressors they experience, particularly those faced by our national colleagues. In some duty stations, national staff make up to 80% of OCHA staff and they face some unique challenges.

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In the OCHA Staff Welfare Field Survey Report, national staff reported feeling more insecure than their international counterparts (February, 2014). This is due to their greater exposure to high-risk situations as national staff members are more frequently exposed to violent attacks than international staff members (Aid Worker Security Report, 2011). They are sometimes directly affected by war and emergency through their own personal experience or through their friends and family.

we feel impressed and proud that they are a part of OCHA

These are the colleagues who make us wonder to ourselves, “How do they manage?”. At the same time we feel impressed and proud that they are a part of OCHA.

National staff members in the field face many challenges. When the ethnic civil war in South Sudan
www_img_7879erupted, the homes of four OCHA national staff were looted. One of these homes belonged to Mr. James, a 25-year old OCHA driver. Mr. James and his family (his mother, two younger brothers, and two small sisters) felt very much in danger and – like many others – were forced to flee to avoid being killed.

As the eldest sibling, Mr. James took care of his mother and his younger siblings. The whole family traveled on foot for many days until they reached a place in the bush which seemed safe, near the banks of the Nile River. They spent a few weeks sleeping in the open air, eating leaves from trees, and drinking unclean water from the river. Together they struggled for survival until Mr. James was finally able to get in touch with the OCHA office in Juba, from which the family received exceptional assistance.

Many national staff members…have been facing extraordinary challenges

In another case in the Central African Republic, the houses of two national OCHA staff members were looted and they had to move into tents provided by UNHCR. One of them was a driver, a job that faces many security risks as well as a constant need to travel through routes that are in poor condition.

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One morning when I saw him, I noticed how well presented his attire was. He even was wearing a brown tie. I asked him,

“How do you manage to live in a tent and still come to the office so well-dressed?” He responded, “My family [wife and ten children] are among the displaced people of Bangui and one cannot sleep well in a tent – since is too hot – but dressing well makes me feel good and it is part of my job.

This man was proud to be working for OCHA and despite everything he was making every effort to get to work as normal – and look good while doing so.

Many national staff members working in places such as Gaza and Syria have witnessed violent attacks and they fear that they

www_a-tour-of-pagak-entry-point-02could be the next target. Research on stress in humanitarian aid workers has found that more than 50% of national aid workers in the field suffer from clinically significant symptoms of anxiety or depression (Antares Foundation, 2012). I would venture to say that security (or the lack thereof) is the most stressful aspect for national staff working in conflict zones. National staff members fear for both their own physical safety and that of their family.

everybody stumbles and falls

Our colleagues such as Mr. James, and the many national staff members working in Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, CAR, East RD Congo, Somalia and many more places, have been facing extraordinary challenges and bouncing back from terrible, traumatic events. They are to be commended and encouraged for their service.

They remind us that, everybody stumbles and falls from time to time, yet each of us has the ability to get back up and carry on. Most of us are ordinary people. However, every one of us has extraordinary strengths and potential.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”  ~Ernest Hemingway