Day in the Life of a Relief Worker in East Africa

One of the things relief money is spent on: relief workers who protect orphaned and abandonned children.

Life in the field is tough, but it pales in comparison to what the children we serve have gone through. Photo credit: Penny Crump / Save the Children

 

One of the questions our supporters ask regularly is “What’s it really like over there?” We captured a day in the life of Save the Children Child Protection Advisor, Amy Richmond, while we worked together in the Horn of Africa on the food crisis. Here is her story from a day in the refugee camps in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia.

I wake up every morning with the sun. We ration electricity, so we all make the most of daylight. Breakfast is usually a cup of instant black coffee and a granola bar. I won’t have anything else until I return from the camps. We don’t eat in front of the children.

I work every day, so they blur together. On days we have internet, I check my email. The team huddles at 7:30 a.m. and we set priorities and tasks. One of my goals is to help kids who have been lost, abandoned or orphaned.

First stop is reception where dozens, sometime hundreds, of children arrive each day. As soon as they’re registered, they’re rushed into a Save the Children feeding center – many of them eating their first meal in days. I work with our partners to make sure vulnerable children get into a protective environment and to reunite lost children with their families.

Next, I monitor the camps - making sure kids are in our school, Child Friendly Space or early child development program. I’m also on the lookout for hazards and basically “kid proof” areas for children to play.

One day while surveying the camps, I met a girl named Alima. She lost both her parents to violent conflict in Mogadishu. She told me of her loss and her frightening journey to the refugee camp – 6 days and nights hitchhiking and walking through the desert. We help children like Alima with various programs, as needed, including foster care, education and health programs.

Despite her hardship, all Alima wanted to talk about was finishing high school. Her hopes were music to my ears. When children talk about their future, it’s a positive sign that – with the right support - they can overcome tragedy. I walked Alima to her host family, comforted to know they were caring friends of her parents.

Then I went to a teen mothers’ group where the girls get needed support and resources. We help them to start a business such as tailoring or dyeing fabrics. The girls are independent and want to avoid the traps of exploitive professions and relationships.

Around 4:00, we head back for debriefing at the Save the Children compound. It’s a cluster of tents, dorms, offices, garages and warehouses of food to distribute to families in need. It’s more like a shipping company with a few places to sleep. I have a 3” mattress, a blow-up camping pillow and a mosquito net. One good thing about it being so hot is that we actually get warm showers.

At night, we have a modest communal dinner - typically rice and lentils. Sometimes we have goat meat. Then it’s computer time. Writing emails, reports, tracking status, recommendations, proposals.

It’s late at night when I miss my family and friends at home. I just missed my niece Hannah’s birthday. I look forward to returning home, having put in place strong programs that my Ethiopian and Somali colleagues will see through.

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