(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Big Transition


I was in the gym yesterday taking a break between sets. As sweat dripped from my chin I looked down and there was a cockroach about the size of Kiran’s fist. It was on its back with its spindly little legs thrashing about. To my knowledge they can’t right themselves without a bit of a push. Regardless of how you feel about cockroaches, it’s nonetheless conflicting to see something helpless and struggling.
refugee kids coming from as far as the eye can see
I confess to feeling a bit like that cockroach lately. Soon after returning to Burundi I was feeling overwhelmed and struggling to get caught up with things. Within days of arriving I was off to the field. Similar to the many trips I’ve taken before, the context of this one was a bit different.
inspecting the nasty road
In December I was approached by the UN (UNHCR) regarding a request for us to take on logistical support for the refugee operations. Though we already provide services in the camps, this was something unlike not only what our organization does in the country, it’s different from what we do around the world. While we provide logistical support for our programs (child protection, gender-based violence, etc.), we haven't done anything to this scale.
driving through Gasorwe camp
Initially there was strong hesitation. I discussed the proposal at length with colleagues in NY and was trying to determine how this may play out if we decided to move forward. To make a very long story short, we came to an agreement and we were off and running. Task forces were formed for five identified areas of focus. A flurry of meetings were held. Emails continued back and forth from NY as I tried to make sure that we were thinking of everything. The transition would be intense but, unfortunately, I still needed to go to the US for the holidays. The compromise was that I would continue to track the events by email and occasionally by phone. My hope was that I’d done enough prior to leaving that my physical presence during the following couple of weeks wouldn’t be necessary.
a few of our trucks
Fortunately for me, the team – both the new team and the previous team – did an outstanding job. UNHCR played a key role in pulling off a successful transition as well. It was a monumental task and I don’t have time or energy to record here all of the accomplishments but suffice to say that all was in place by the first week of January to support a convoy of refugees arriving from the Congo heading towards our refugee camp on the other side of the country.  Two weeks later we supported a second convoy, the one that I was able to catch up with on the road as it was nearing its destination.
new arrivals being processed
In all the administrative work needing to be done to support the transition and all of the stress and headaches, the trip to the field was helpful for more than the purpose of meeting staff and visiting facilities. It was also a stark reminder of what we are doing. As I watched the refugees being processed, registered, collecting their camp non-food items and receiving their dinner in the transit center, the human drama behind it all kept going through my mind. These people have just fled their homes, leaving everything behind, many of them have been raped, threatened, lost family members, etc. After working in and around refugee operations for several years, one can get lost in all the decisions being made, necessary paperwork, etc. and forget the real tragedy and emotion that these people have faced and will continue to face. As transitions go, this is one that I hope I never go through. 
the end of life as you knew it

1 comment:

Michael said...

Richard,

I was just turned onto your blog by your sister Lisa. I am looking forward to reading your posts. I manage the website media for two organizations serving Congo and Somalia (http://www.athousandsisters.org and http://www.sistersomalia.org).

Be Well,

- Michael