If you had asked me in January if I would be interested in moving to and working in South Sudan I probably would have said no. I had a general understanding of the country and its problems but had no real desire to get involved. My heart was in the Middle East and that is where I thought, or rather hoped, I was headed. That has changed. On Saturday, 10 June, I leave South Africa to begin a new career with Medair in South Sudan. Not something I expected to happen just five months ago.
In October 2016, Haiti was battered by Hurricane Matthew causing widespread destruction and devastation. My mom sent me a video clip of the daughter of a friend of hers from Bible School who was reporting on behalf of Medair and detailing the organisation’s response to the disaster. The following month, while browsing a job alert website in search of an opportunity in the Middle East, I saw a post from Medair advertising a communications role in Amman, Jordan. I skimmed the organisation’s website and sent in my application. Since 2014 I have applied for over 120 jobs in the Middle East with no success so I was not particularly hopeful that this application would be any different. In December, I received an email from Medair requesting I complete a further application as part of the hiring process. Again, I was not especially hopeful but sent off the required documents. In January 2017, I was informed that the position in Amman had been filled and asked if I would be interested in working in other areas of the world. I expressed my willingness to go elsewhere and spent more time investigating Medair and their projects. Later in the month I had a Skype interview with the headquarters in Switzerland and I was invited to attend the Relief and Recovery Orientation Course (ROC) during the first week of February in the town of Vallorbe outside Geneva. The ROC was an intense and exhausting week in beautiful snow consisting of training sessions, a simulation, briefings, and two interviews which resulted in much gained knowledge, a greater understanding of the organisation, and incredible friendships. I returned to South Africa with excitement that Medair may be my new home. It was then communicated that I had passed the ROC and could now apply for vacancies which I began immediately. I had applied and interviewed for positions in communications which at the time were not available. I applied for several project management roles and was unsuccessful. At the end of April, a communications role in South Sudan became available and I had a Skype interview with the Country Director and Deputy Country Director. Two weeks later I received an email welcoming me to the Medair family. The preparation has been hectic but today, less than a week away from departure, I am ready to go.
As many of you know, I have been searching for a career change for several years but my attempts were fruitless. My journey with Medair began six months ago and the timing has been perfect. In October 2016, I began experiencing severe neck pain. I had physiotherapy, acupuncture, and x-rays and took a variety of pain medication. The day I was due to fly to Switzerland for the ROC, my physiotherapist recommended a start wearing a neck brace. On my way home to pack for the trip I stopped to say goodbye to my parents. They saw me uncomfortably squeezed into the neck brace and prayed that my neck pain would subside for my trip. I got home, packed my bags, and decided to leave the brace at home. I felt I could not show up at the ROC broken. I landed in Cairo, disembarked, and felt no pain. For the seven days I was in Switzerland I had absolutely no pain and required no pain medication. It was incredible. It was a miracle. Within a day of getting home the pain returned. I saw my neurosurgeon in March, he admitted me to hospital for three days of traction, and conducted a MRI. The scan indicated a disc in my neck had bulged and broken which was causing the pain in my neck, shoulders, and arms. At the end of March, I had neck surgery to replace the damaged disc with a titanium and ceramic disc. I was in recovery for two weeks, had several more uncomfortable weeks, but am now pain-free and strong. The timing surrounding this communications role in South Sudan has worked perfectly with my neck problems and my work at Bean There Coffee Company. I have had several weeks to prepare and handover my tasks and responsibilities and am in the right space at the right time to make this move.
Established in 1988, Medair helps people who are suffering in remote and devastated communities around the world survive crisis, recover with dignity, and develop skills to build a better future. Medair is a relief and recovery organisation responding to natural disasters and conflicts currently operating in 12 countries. Medair specialises in three sectors: water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), shelter and infrastructure, and health and nutrition. Medair is a Christian organisation and states: “At Medair our highest goal is to honour God through who we are and what we do – shown by our desire to do high quality humanitarian work – on an individual and corporate basis. We want to bring our professional, practical, and management skills as an expression of God’s love to the world’s most vulnerable.”
Medair has operated in South Sudan since 1992 and is the organisation’s largest program. Currently Medair employs 50 international staff and 500 local staff in South Sudan. The country is a collision of natural and man-made disaster. Formed in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s youngest country and it set off with much hope and optimism. In late 2013, due to bold political power plays, civil war exploded and has engulfed the country ever since. Hundreds of thousands of people have been pushed from their homes and rendered as refugees. In 2016, a famine was pronounced and the country is also plagued with cholera and malaria illnesses. The problems and the pain are immense and Medair is on the frontline aiding the people of South Sudan. In February, Medair administered 30,772 cholera vaccinations in just two days!
Several of the Medair staff members in attendance at the ROC had served in South Sudan and their stories nudged my interest in the troubled land. Since then, I have read about the country, watched documentaries, and attempted to know as much as possible prior to departure.
I have been hired as the communications officer in South Sudan. I will be responsible for providing communications and fundraising resources to the headquarters in Switzerland, dealing with media and public relations, managing social media, connecting with institutional and private donors, monitoring branding and co-branding coordination, and overseeing internal communication. I will be based in the capital city of Juba and will spend approximately 35% of my time in field locations including projects in Leer, Renk, and Maban. It is my privilege to share the stories of South Sudan.
The Next Steps
My last day at Bean There will be Friday, 9 June, and I leave South Africa on Saturday, 10 June. I am going to the Medair headquarters in Switzerland for a week of induction and briefing and am scheduled to arrive in South Sudan on Sunday, 18 June. It is a time of joy and sadness as I wrap up my blessed and full life in South Africa.
Entwined with the excitement of this new adventure this is a fair degree of anxiety. This is a big change! Please pray that my adjustment will be swift and smooth. Please pray that my good health is maintained. Please pray for my safety. Please pray for the relationships I will make with my new colleagues. Please pray for the people of South Sudan and the effectiveness of Medair’s projects. Please pray for my family.
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God’s hand has clearly and deliberately led me to this point. Thank you for your care and support. Thank you especially to my family. You can follow my journey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog.