I am the new Communications Officer for Medair in South Sudan. I arrived in the capital city of Juba on Sunday, 18 June. These are my impressions so far.
As a coffee-lover, I was relieved to see an array of coffee making equipment prominently displayed on a shelf in the kitchen, AeroPress, Bialetti, French Press, and an equally impressive selection of coffee. Morning coffee routines are important in Juba and that first cup is usually savoured with a fresh bread roll.
Tip: The corner shop next to the compound is owned and operated by a man from Eritrea who will roast and grind coffee as required.
It’s hot, incredibly hot, even in the “cool” season. Fortunately the offices and bedrooms are equipped with air conditioners but when the generator is turned off the mandatory three times a day, be ready to sweat! This is the rainy season so when the rains do roll in the clouds are majestic, the lightening powerful, and the cool breeze welcome.
Tip: Drink lots of water. Enjoy the cold showers.
- Phonetic Alphabet
Mingled with relief work protocols comes a need to know and memorise the NATO Phonetic Alphabet: alpha, bravo, charlie, etc. Each team member is assigned a call sign which is referred to using this system and phone calls often require this knowledge.
Tip: Write it down somewhere accessible and memorise it if possible.
- Names, Faces, and Roles
The South Sudan team is large and there are so many names, faces, and roles to remember. Trying to keep it all straight is overwhelming. There is also a lot of people movement on base so there is constant in and out between Juba, the field locations, and Nairobi.
Tip: Keep your contact list with you. Don’t shy away from asking someone’s name more than once, or twice, or even three times!
An immense amount of information is provided by Medair at the headquarters in Switzerland and the team in South Sudan. Documents, articles, briefings, books – there is so much to take in and so much to remember. I am new to relief work so this has been somewhat daunting.
Tip: Take it one day at a time. It is impossible to know everything at once and no one expects you to. But keep asking questions and learning.
Humanitarian work and workers deeply rely on acronyms. Everything from a position, a location, a project, an illness, and an intervention boasts a shorthand code. It can be daunting but Google can help most of the time. But beware; for a few days I thought GAM represented Global Asset Management before realising it actually means Global Acute Malnutrition.
Tip: Keep a list of common acronyms. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know what the acronym stands for.
It is lovely to have two meals prepared and served every day and even though the menu repeats itself weekly it is better than having to source and cook food oneself. The Medair cooks are diligent and the food consistent. Be ready to enjoy cold food and practice using just a fork.
Tip: Try everything. Make sure you get to meals on time or you may miss out. Keep a stash of your favourite snacks available.
- Team Life
At any given time, approximately 32 people are living in the Medair base in Juba. That’s a lot of people to have in the same building living and working together. Despite the potential for irritation and frustration, the team life is dynamic and easy-going. People are kind and considerate and have made me feel welcome.
Tip: Make an effort to get to know everyone. Individual stories are fascinating and people have so much to share.
Juba is an intriguing city; a combination of incomplete buildings, shipping container offices, dirt roads, random restaurants, NGO vehicles, and reckless bodo bodo motorbike taxis. The city is not as chaotic as other African cities I have experienced but nevertheless has a definite African feel to it.
Tip: Make the most of trips outside the base to take in the surroundings and soak up the city buzz.
I arrived the week of the Quarterly Management Meetings (QMMs) which provided an invaluable opportunity to learn about Medair’s programmes in depth and, just as importantly, the incredible successes the teams have accomplished in the last three months. This organisation is really saving lives in South Sudan.
Tip: Ask questions and take advantage of staff visiting from the field. They have inspiring stories to share and experience to dispense.