As I walked out one late-summer morning…South Sudan
A quick warning: forgive me, this is my first blog…..
As the first half of my internship drew to an end, it became increasingly likely that I would be heading to Southern Sudan for six months. The internship, called the Humanitarian Skills Development Programme, seeks to train up a new cadre of humanitarian professionals so that Save the Children, and the wider sector, can more effectively respond to crises around the world. After six months in London working with the Emergencies Section I was itching to get out to the field and see for myself the sort of work we do. So with the final training completed – an intense two weeks spent in middle-of-nowhere-Wales – the news came through confirming my departure to Southern Sudan.
After a brief, but mosquito-ridden, stopover in Nairobi, I woke early to make my way to the airport. There were a total of zero holiday-makers on the twin-jet 60 seater Canadair Regional Jet; this marked the fork in the road away from the sort of Africa that people choose to visit, towards those parts where the humanitarian and development community almost exclusively make up the non-indigenous population. Except, of course, for the dubious prospectors who are drawn to Sudan’s generous oil deposits like moths to a candle.
The flight itself was just over an hour, and our approach gave me my first view of Juba. As the rainy season had just come to an end, the area immediately surrounding Juba looked encouragingly green. Mud-red roads shot straight out from Juba, promising interest and adventure, and the city itself was a grid work of predominantly dirt roads, with few buildings more than a storey high. I also saw my first tukuls, traditional Sudanese dwellings which are circular, thatched buildings constructed around brick and timber frames.
With vaulted ceilings, they do the best they can to combat the fierce heat in this area. And around each tukul stood their inhabitants: the tall, rangy and elegant Sudanese. But perhaps the most noticeable feature from the plane window was the number of large white 4×4 vehicles used by INGOs and UN agencies – a depressing sign which goes a long way towards indicating the scale of the humanitarian need.
Fortunately, one of the rare pieces of tarmac was the runway, which allowed for a smooth landing. Clearing customs was equally smooth: I only had to mention that the large black case contained a guitar for the customs officer to issue a wide smile, nod and usher me through to the hazy heat of Juba.
On the drive to the SC office, it became clear that the mud-red roads of Juba were not the smooth, compacted avenues that can be just as good as tarmac. Rather, they were essentially gaps between buildings where the ground was too uneven to build. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but certainly as soon as you leave the few metres of tarmac, you need a 4×4 just to get around the capital.
Phil (Logistics ERP) and Valente (Emergency Response Manager, and my coach for the next six months) met me at the office and I began the process of getting my head around it all. Valente also threw me in the deep-end after lunch by taking me with him to a UN Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC) meeting to discuss the distribution of non-food items (NFIs) – great to get stuck in.
Walking around the office, I was met with a barrage of smiles and “how are you?”s.
The warmth of this reception was hard to rationalise in a region where statistics show that a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than complete education.
At one o’clock the generator which provides all the electricity for the office is switched off for an hour. This gives it a chance to cool down, and reminds the hardworking staff to go for lunch. So on my first day, Phil, Charlie, Mary and I headed to ‘the Chicken Man’ for a bite to eat. Chicken Man’s restaurant is a wooden shack with tarpaulin roof and mud floor. Huge platefuls of beans, rice, onions and potatoes emerged from a kitchen out the back. Delicious as it was, I couldn’t finish it.
At the end of the working day, I made my way back to my guesthouse. Knackered but pleased to see a heavily laden mango tree in the garden. Day one – done.