Monday, February 15, 2010

February 15, 2010 - WFP Drivers

I don’t write on this blog very much even though there is a lot to say; I am afraid to share work related issues as this is a public forum. However, there is one thing that I have wanted to write about for quite some time.

At WFP we are always on the move. Everything seems to be an emergency and sometimes remembering to do one small thing during the workday can make a difference for thousands of people. This is very satisfying and can also be very stressful.

Anyway, I think this is one of the reasons WFP has a number of drivers: to allow us to work as we move through the country. We have many drivers in our Nairobi office and in every sub-office around the country. The drivers make sure vehicles are ready to drive all the time in terms of maintenance and fuel, and often they also coordinate our security escorts and report over the radio our position every hour for security purposes when we are in the field. They deliver messages/letters and drive throughout the day. It sounds easy, but it is not; it is actually a tough job. It entails driving where there is often no road, always feeling pressure from the staff to be at a certain place in time, coming in the morning before everybody else and often leaving after everybody has gone home. Just sitting in the car for 5 days will make you completely exhausted as you are continuously hoping up and down and shaken from side to side.

When I travel to the field I spend 5 days with the driver almost 24 hours every day. I have tremendous respect for our drivers who manage somehow to drive fast but only to the point where it is safe. They can drive over 80km per hour on a dirt road and get through rivers and rocky terrain. When I travel in town or outside town I always ask them a lot of questions and they give me a good picture Kenya from a Kenyan’s perspective.

In terms of vehicles, WFP swears by the basic Toyota Landcruiser. As a WFP staff member I have grown to love this vehicle. Many years ago WFP also used the Landrover Defender (Landcruisers and Defenders are the toughest, most serious 4x4 vehicles in the world); however, the Toyota proved to be more durable so now we only have Landcruisers. I remember going on a field visit with two World Bank officers some time back. They had a huge Toyota luxus SUV with every option imaginable. The cool looking World Bank driver was doing great until we hit the rough road. Our vehicle with WFP staff was in front leading the way and I was in the World Bank vehicle explaining our programs to the officers. We were short of time as usual and the WFP Landcruisier flew through the terrain like a fish through water. The World Bank driver struggled to keep up in this huge luxus vehicle and almost slid of the road one time. The WFP vehicle would continuously stop and wait as we were moving along. During this experience I realized how crucial our drivers are and what a difference they make every day.

On the way back when we hit the paved road I switched to the WFP vehicle and the World Bank Driver, who must have been embarrassed, rushed back to Nairobi. We only saw the tail of their car for the first 2 minutes of the trip and then they were gone. He was driving irresponsibly fast ,which I have never seen our drivers do. Needless to say I am very proud of our drivers and our entire “transport unit”.

I am also proud to say that WFP has the largest percentage of female drivers in any UN organization in Kenya and they are all excellent. Unfortunately, one of our long time drivers (10 years with WFP) passed away last week. She had a short-term illness and went to the hospital, “where she lost the battle for her life”, as our Country Director put it. Her parents are also deceased, she was not married but had some siblings in the rural areas, who I am sure she was supporting though her UN salary. She left behind two children. We had a prayer ceremony for her at work on Friday and I realized how much it hurts when WFP loses a family member.


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