Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 20, 2007 - Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? (AKA Kristoffer finally writes!)

(posted later than written)

For me personally, the answer must be no. Lisa is dreading that I have to work on the 24th but at least I have the 25th off. Apart from the big mechanical dancing Santas at the malls with a semi-warm “Ho Ho Ho” and with the 75F (25C) weather everyday and our local rooster calling the sun up at 6am every morning, Christmas couldn’t seem further away. I must admit though that my eyes are eagerly searching for any parcels or letters at my mail box at work, which has been completely empty since I got my name on it last week.

So how is work, Kristoffer?

It is everything I wanted it to be and more. WFP is probably a big “Who?” to most people, just as it was to me when I initially applied for this job through the Danish government’s Junior Professional Officer Programme. WFP is essentially a relief programme; a branch of the UN that is specialized in dealing with emergencies. Tsunamis and famines, for example, or essentially every emergency where there is an urgent demand for food. So at work we have fairly large procurement and logistical units because that it basically what we do: we actually get the food out there, and I’m proud to say that we are one of the UN organizations with the lowest administrative costs. Donations will go directly to the beneficiaries in terms of food. Our mandate has been stretched a little bit and this is where I come in.

I’m working at the development unit in the Kenyan country office. In Kenya, WFP runs the world’s largest School Feeding Programme, feeding more than one million children a year. The 150 gram lunch we provide to schools in ASAL (arid and semi-arid land) have a variety of objectives. It is an incentive for the parents to send their children to school because they get fed, the programme increases student enrollment in these rural and extremely poor areas, it decreases the dropout rates and improves the children’s attention span. The programme is run by the Ministry of Education with the main support from WFP. It’s an amazing program and I’ll tell you more about it later because there are, of course, a number of challenges both with the Ministry and with the execution of the programme. In Kenya, we also support girls and women through targeted feeding programmes for lactose intolerant or breast-feeding mothers, we run 10 boarding schools for girls that have run away from marriages or their strict ¤%”¤% society. We run food-for-work programs where we employ local labour to work for food to improve the local schools, water facilities, roads etc.

We also have a HIV/AIDS feeding program. In Kenya all people living with AIDS (PLWA) get free ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) from the government, but the medicine needs to be accompanied with a healthy and rich diet which is where we come in. We also run wellness centers along the main roads through Kenya to help poorly educated truck drivers stop spreading HIV/AIDS through prostitutes along the highways and stop bringing it back to their villages. These centers are there to educate truck drives about the disease.

Through our private donors, namely Unilever (Holland) and the International Paper Company (US), we run other programs, for example the de-worming program. Every child in the School Feeding Programme is getting de-wormed every 6 months (1 tablet does the trick!). Worms can consume up to 75% of a child’s food consumption (I know you all way better off without this knowledge, but these are the facts).

Other units in WFP Kenya are the EMOP: emergency operations and refugees. We provide food to 250.000 refugees from Somalia and Sudan in the northern part of the country. This is a huge program, but I’m sad to say that there are very few people running it. Coming from the World Bank in DC, I can honestly say that we are depressingly under-staffed here. What one staff does here I would prefer to have 4-5 people working on because it is extremely important.

The good thing for me is that there is a lot of responsibility. I’ll be working on our budget and resources 50% of the time involving: meetings with the Ministry (did that last week) to make sure the food is bought, coordinating with logistics and the local districts. 30% of the time I’ll work with Monitoring and Evaluation, which means lots of field visits (I’m going three times in January to the slums of Nairobi and to villages with high rates of HIV7AIDS) and a bit of data work. The last 20% of my time will be devoted to the Country Programme which is our 4-year strategy and it is due in June. So I’ll be working on everything!!! Simply perfect!

It’s early Thursday morning and I’m up with the rooster and the sun. I have the day off because of a Muslim holiday. I’ll gently wake my wife up because we are going apartment hunting which is now our biggest headache!

Maybe I can tell you a little bit about Kenyan woman. I’m fascinated by them. I would say 70% of WFP staff are woman which is great for gender equality but tough for me. When I studied in England I shared a dorm with two Asian women, one from Taiwan and the other from Hong Kong. In the beginning I couldn’t tell them apart. This is awful to say but I thought they looked the same. After a few weeks I realized that they didn’t look the same at all and I’m ashamed by that today. But I’m in kind of the same situation right now at work. Luckily there are different tribes in Kenya so there is a lot of variation but many Kenyan women look the same from my perspective, and on top of that Kenyan women are chameleons: they change their appearance every day. One day their hair is down and they aren’t wearing makeup but the next day their hair is up and they are wearing tons of make-up! The next day they wear a fancy colourful dress, the next day a business suit…it is really difficult to know who is who!

More about everything later; we need a nice place to stay now. If I drive Lisa down to the Java House (a local coffee chain) for breakfast (American breakfast-American prices!) then she will get up immediately.

I’ll tell you why I (the environmentalist with cold showers and energy efficient bulbs) am buying an ISUZU Wizard (V6) SUV in my next blog.

Take care…oh I mean merry Christmas… I almost forgot ; )


1 comment:

Omar said...

So great that you posted!!


um...excuse me?? an SUV???
that's a LOT more cold showers boy!
Where's the tadem??????