Head of Field Office
“It was a real path of discovery, finding out the extent to which different communities differ in their coping mechanisms.” Frederick Ogwal-Oyee started working with humanitarian assistance in his home country, Uganda, almost 30 years ago. After first working with the World Food Programme (WFP), he joined UNICEF in Uganda, and has since been part of their international staff for the past 15 years.
Making the transition from working with affected communities in his native country to those in both far-off places like Pakistan and in neighbouring African states was eye-opening. Even though it was always similar vulnerable groups that were the worst affected in any crisis – women, children, the elderly – the way the affected groups and their surrounding communities dealt with disaster differed significantly. However, Frederick also saw that these differences were not always fully reflected in strategies to reach affected populations: “A lot could be gained by humanitarian actors if they could just understand the specificities of communities better – aid delivery could become more effective, and many problems avoided,” he says.
Frederick is currently working in the Dadaab refugee operation in North-eastern Kenya, where he is the head of the UNICEF field office. Providing assistance to the huge number of refugees in the camps – recently estimated at around 500 000 – requires pooling the resources and competence of all the actors involved. Consequently, his work is to a great extent concerned with coordination: with UNCHR, the main organization responsible for running the five camps, other UN organizations, international and local NGOs, as well as the Kenyan government. “It is crucial that we work hand in hand with our partner organizations”, he says, “because in each of the sectors we are active in, a single agency cannot deal with these problems on its own.”
A lot could be gained by humanitarian actors if they could just understand the specificities of communities better – aid delivery could become more effective, and many problems avoided.”
Having moved from his home country to work in several non-family field duty stations, it initially felt difficult being away from his family for extended periods. “But once you have made that kind of decision, you have to see how you can make your family life work,” he says, adding that “it is, in fact, very possible.” There are other aspects of his work in the field that are more difficult to deal with. It can be a mental strain to so often be working in environments where people are living under extremely difficult conditions, but it is not possible to do enough to address all their basic needs, either because of a lack of resources or because insecurity makes access to them unfeasible.
There can also be harsh reminders of the fact that you are working in an area where your own life can be in danger – in Dadaab several humanitarian workers have been abducted over the last years. “These are people that you know and you’re working with on a daily basis,” Frederick explains. “When things like that happen, you lose any illusion of normalcy in your life in the field.” But at the same time, he thinks improving staff security can be a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to armed escorts. “Without them, we cannot go to certain areas at all, but aid recipients will naturally tend to see you differently if you come to them with armed men around you,” he says.
In order to find better solutions to the problems he identifies in the field, he finds it important that professional knowledge is shared across organizational boundaries. “We cannot solve these problems within each organization – we need to reach out more to each other, on both an individual and organizational level,” he says. Having worked in the same organizations for almost 25 years, Frederick has found that it can be difficult to get knowledge developed inside the organization out to others.
“I think PHAP can play an important role here, building connections between professionals in different sectors and organizations so that they can discuss and share all the expertise that is present in the association,” he continues. “It is a great opportunity to share the things that we have learned, to take steps towards new solutions.”
Interview by Markus Forsberg