Photo courtesy of Martin Hay

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Rest and recuperation

Some people go to Zanzibar, some Dubai, others still fly to India or somewhere on the European continent - I am coming home to the humble UK for my first rest and recuperation break! I'm looking forward to being wrapped in jumpers, drinking tea without sweating and eating lots of raisin and marzipan based Christmas goodies. The last 13 weeks in Juba has been a fantastic learning experience. Perhaps I'll get the chance to reflect on my time here and crack out a couple of blogs while I'm at home... Hmmm, likely?

I'm looking forward to gathering my strength and sanity in the UK before embarking on another stint of time in South Sudan...

... I doubt I'll sleep much tonight!

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Another week in Juba, and in the office things seem the same; e-mails come and e-mails go, deadlines come and deadlines go, we go jogging at UNMISS and we go to the pub. Meanwhile there's something slightly frightening looming.

The government here have decided that they want to 'Sudanise' all jobs up to 'Manager' level, that is, hire a national to cover these roles. At present, all jobs up to 'officer' level are entirely staffed by Sudanese, apart from my role, because I work for free! So, the government want to replace all manager level jobs in human resources, logistics, finance and other such things with Sudanese staff. In the near future there's also the intention to Sudanise all jobs up to Country Director level, although I'm unsure of their timeframe for this.

The expats (Brits, Kenyans, Ugandans, Ethiopians and Malawians) who are currently in these roles, when applying to extend their work visas (the visas we have are only valid for 3-6 months) are currently being asked to leave the country or come to the ministry to defend their jobs, i.e. why it is not possible to find a Sudanese person with the same skills. The ministry want to be involved in all interview processes going forward, and NGOs have to pay the ministry for their time.

Next week, several of these roles are planned to be advertised, and those currently working in the roles will need to sit and wait to see if there'll be a South Sudanese national who meets the job spec. When people don't apply for the jobs, the ministry ask NGOs to keep advertising, and if interviewees don't meet the standards, it has been know for NGOs to be asked to lower the standards of the job spec.

In principle, I believe that it's good for INGOs to be staffed by nationals from the countries they're functioning in. There are many reasons why this is a good thing which I won't list here. Our current national staff are brilliant, they've been educated in other neighbouring countries or refugee camps, and I believe that given time they'll have built the capacity to move up and thrive in the Manager roles. As an international NGO, this is what we want; to improve the capacity of the work force so that the internationals can step back and take their resources elsewhere. However, South Sudan has been engaged in 2 civil wars since 1955 (the first civil war from 1955-1972 and second civil war from 1983-2005, ending in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement), and I feel like it's a bit too early to be kicking out the expat human resources. Many NGOs wouldn't want to risk their reputations by forcibly taking on staff who are not able to do the roles to international standards, or who need a lot of capacity building to meet these standards, and many donors will be reluctant to donate to organisations where International HQ's are made to manage from afar. Also, that the expat staff are asked to leave with little or no notice period means that any sort of meaningful hand-over of roles, or capacity building of the new staff members within the organisation will be impossible.

In health alone, South Sudan has some of the worst humanitarian indicators in the world, and our Health Advisor tells me that NGOs currently provide roughly 85% of the health services here. What will happen to the country if these NGOs can't function anymore because they're weighed down by taking on a considerable number of new and, in some cases, inadequately skilled staff force.

Perhaps I sound too negative about this, and I think I would be less concerned if I felt that the push to Sudanise all the NGO roles was on a reasonable basis. But, somehow, the ruthlessness of the application of this decision, and the preference within the ministry to lower job specs and employ less competent national staff over employing an expat staff, makes me doubt the motives of this policy and worry how this will impact the people of South Sudan who currently receive NGO services.

Monday, 7 November 2011


I'm aware I haven't blogged in a while. My reduction in blogging has broadly correlated with an increase in things to think about and do in the office and the arrival of a girl from the UK HQ. The arrival of the girl from the UK HQ has also broadly correlated with me taking more trips to the pub.

So, there are my excuses! I have a few things I've been thinking of blogging about but haven't for the following reasons (in no particular order); I don't know whether if I say something potentially on the critical side of some goings on in S. Sudan whether someone may hunt me down and chase me out of the country; and, I have been too lazy to sit down and articulate my thoughts - the latter may broadly correlate with the increasing frequecy in which I have been frequenting the pub of late... or the increase in things to think about at work. Although, its important to remember that correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation.

So, this blog is by way of 'breaking the seal', and hopefully the next one will be more interesting and/or informative. It may include more news other than, "work's been busier and I've been going to the pub a fair bit".

Any requests for what sorts of blogs you want to read/me to write are welcome!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Honouring the Chairman

Today we had a party. The main reason was to honour the visit of our chairman from the UK. Our amazing cook, the one that brightens up each day with meal times to look forward to, cooked up a feast of chicken and chips, we drank beer and coke, and danced in the darkness of the compound, lit by the headlights of one of our land cruisers. The chairman attempted to teach me the Jive, as we listened to a the DJ's mix of British 90's dance tunes and African pop songs.

I wanted to take lots of photos of everyone to show you, but couldn't work out why my flash wasn't working. However, a friend managed to take one of a few of us without the flash before the light got too dim. Here it is:

A small snippet of our big team
We sacrificed ourselves to the mozzies, but fun and laughter was had, and it was an altogether good way to start the week. Next week, malaria?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

For one day only: I left Juba!

So, as many of you know, I'm in Juba. As maybe fewer of you know, I'm actually meant to be in Jonglei State, in a little place called Motot. Motot, so I've been told, is the physical embodiment of 'the-middle-of-nowhere' - practically unreachable in the rainy season. However, it is not because of the rainy season that I am in Juba, but because of insecurity.

Back in August, there was fighting between two tribes in the area, the Lou Nuer and the Murle (for more details click here), and the team has been in Juba ever since. However, operations still continue in Motot and the surrounding areas, monitored by us in Juba and overseen by a local contact person in Motot.

Pieri is another village approximately 15km south-west of Motot where the team also has a sub-base. Last Wednesday, 7 of us set out in a small plane to check out what's been going on with the programmes since the last visit in September, and to pay wages.

Despite a slight glitch where the pilot realised, after turning on the engine and just before take-off, that we needed to 'take on more fuel', we were in the air and flying over miles and miles of untouched forest and grassland. We landed on the airstrip in Pieri and successfully avoided getting stuck in the mud as the pilot drove a 180 and parked us right by the crowd of on-looking villagers.

We walked through the village to announce our arrival to the government officials and passed numerous piles of ash along the way, "they used to be homes", my colleague told me, "and that one, the church". We walked further and passed a UN compound, manned by Indian soldiers. A South Sudanese staff member began communicating with them in English, explaining who we were. We quickly moved on following several exchanges of sentences delivered in thick accents, accompanied by blank looks on the faces of both parties. We were later told that the UN had been there since the violence, and the team manning the UN base were flown in and changed weekly. We witnessed the huge UN helicopter landing that day.

On our way back from the government office, my colleagues showed me a health clinic and water pump that were previously installed by our programmes, walking further we passed the compound of another international NGO where their 4x4, set alight during the violence in August, remained inside the compound, all rusted, no windows.

Meeting the local staff was eye-opening; there we so many of them! They were some of the tallest people I've ever seen, and seemed genuinely happy to see 7 of us back for the day. The team who flew with me, who I'd only known previously working laboriously at their laptops in the Juba office, seemed to come alive when engaging with the local staff. I asked one of the staff members about this later in the day, "of course", she said after I told her that she looked much happier in Pieri than she did in Juba, "this is where we're meant to be!"

My first impressions of Pieri, and the rest of our team (the local staff) were good ones. Being in the field-site made all these funding proposals and reports make sense. I could picture our staff, within their communities, and the communities beyond, affecting change and providing life-changing services.

Next time, there'll be pictures.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Jogging at UNMISS

Last night, almost the entire team went to the UNMISS compound to take some exercise. The UNMISS compound is huge, and is buzzing with joggers and others taking an evening stroll whenever I’ve been there. As you jog, storks gather and set up their perch for the night on the UNMISS lap-posts, fighting for the best spot. A jagged, flat-topped mountain stands off in the distance, surrounded by flat plains and rising out of the mist.

We arrived at different times, jogging and walking at different paces and in different directions, cheering and shouting encouragement as we passed each other on the track. I couldn’t help but think that it was a good representation of what a team should be like; starting and finishing at the same place, taking different routes depending on strengths and preferences, encouraging each other at intervals along the way, regardless of pace and competencies, all to achieve the same goal.

We got back to the cars just in time to avoid the rain. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Things I miss about the UK

Today is a beautiful day with a heavy and dark thunder storm quenching the ground, making sitting in doors feel positively cosy. I really love the sound of the rain, and the smell of rain when it hits dry earth. However, it's three weeks in, and I've begun to miss the UK a bit. I thought I'd make a list of a few of the things that I miss (in no particular order!)

1) My quirky housemates:
We often had mice in our house...

... humour through the medium of cards helped us dealt with it - this one says "I'm making loads of new friends on Micespace".

They also had fetishes for different countries. They're a great bunch!
2) Andy:
Nuff said.
3) My garden:
Although, I don't miss the fight with the chickens over sovereignty of the garden. 
4) Chocolate... you know what that looks like.
5) My community - sadly I have no picture.
6) Going out by myself.
7) Meeting friends for coffee.
8) Going to the toilet at night without a torch.

The rain has stopped. Time for a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Security by the Nile

This week I've been doing some security training - this is important so that I know how to hibernate/relocate/evacuate from a field site effectively, assess a safe and secure compound and know what to put in my 'quick-run bag' should the unthinkable happen and I need to trek through the wilderness for 4 days to find safety. Better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

So, I sit down for our tea and cake break yesterday morning and say to the Irish guy next to me, "hey, I didn't know there was a river in Juba", "yes Gemma," he replies "its the Nile!" He smiles as an embarrassed look crosses my face. I left uni less than a month ago and it seems I've already forgotten basic geography. Shameful. Needless to say, struck with geography-style, celebrity-ism, awe, I took my camera out and captured a few snaps. The real life Nile, ladies and gents:

The Nile framed by the fairly unsightly barriers and barbed wire that keep people from falling in and undesirables climbing on-land. 

A slightly wonky photo of a man fishing on the Nile with a building in the background that I apparently shouldn't have been taking a picture of - they're fairly touchy about you taking pictures of things in S. Sudan.
In my defence, Google maps doesn't have rivers on it*, so I hadn't noticed the course of the Nile when looking up Juba before I came. I realised that I need to get a proper map of the area detailing all the important geographical features - I wonder if they've made any yet?!

* Doh! I just realised Google maps does have rivers on it. Ok, ok, I just didn't do my homework!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The compound

The good news is... the laptop I've been assigned has a reader for my camera card - hurray! So, since I've spent about 90% of my time here locked away in the compound, I thought I'd visually fill you in on my surroundings:

This is my room.

This is the plant outside my room. It needs a bit of water. I like it because the leaves change colour and it reminds me of the poinsettia I left back in the office. 

This is my walk to work - it takes about 2 minutes.

This is one of the flowers that falls from the tree on the way to work and distracts me every morning - it adds roughly another 30 seconds to the walk.

This is the office.

This is my temporary desk and laptop. I'm drinking  South Sudanese coke.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

First week in Juba

I've been here five days now, and I've been assured that Juba is relative luxury in comparison to where I'll be based for the majority of my stay here. I can believe it. The room I'm staying in is twice the size of my room in London (although that's not difficult), the showers, though cold, are inside, large and bug free and all the toilets flush. Grand. 

Three disappointments - the internet connection is unreliable at best - non-existant at worst, the water makes my hair sticky and limp no matter how much I rinse it, and I forgot to bring my camera lead which means that pictures in this blog will lack the personal touch. Here's a wikipic of the place - clearly not taken by me!

Had my first daytime outing today to the supermarket where you can buy a plastic, foot-long, gold-coloured trophy for £15 and a Kitkat chunky for £1. To make the trip worthwhile, I splashed out on the Kitkat and some soap to wash my clothes (75p).


On the way back we drove the long-way around the city where I saw plenty of cool stuff - cows with the biggest horns I'd ever seen, goats with really big fat tails and loads of little shops selling all-sorts of crazy stuff. It seems the world has come to Juba and creates some interesting juxtapositions.

Monday, 12 September 2011


Arrived in Nairobi this morning to drizzle and a cool breeze. It was only the palm trees which assured me that I was no longer in Harlesden. Everything else; the weather, the erratic road manner and the mix of languages, is reminiscent of NW10.

My time in Nairobi is short. I leave for Juba in the morning. Whilst here, I have acquainted myself with the Team House, two shopping malls and a Java coffee house - thanks to my fellow stop-over team mate who is also leaving for north Kenya tomorrow. She introduced me to enough to keep me occupied during my stop overs here, for which I am very thankful.

Very excited to meet my Motot team in Juba tomorrow and start finding out a little bit more about what they have in store for me...