Lessons Learnt 2016 - Nepal, Vanuatu and West Africa


January 17, 2010

Un pour tous, tous pour un

( All for One and One for All)

Author: Mariko Hall

Today’s news was filled with headlines painting a dire picture of the situation in Haiti:

'A frenzy of looting' seen in Haiti's capital – CNN

Haiti Relief Workers Risk Their Minds – ABC News

Disease fears in quake-hit Haiti – Al Jazeera

Haitians fleeing capital in search of food, safety – The Associated Press

Death toll put at 200000 in 'disaster of epic proportions' - Irish Times

There is no denying that the conditions in Haiti since the earthquake are relentlessly harsh, that food and water are diabolically scarce, and people are dying every day. Yet despite the conditions, hundreds of humanitarian aid workers are flowing into the area daily to try to do their part to help the people of Haiti.

Last night four more ICT staff from the United Nations World Food Programme office in Dubai boarded a plane and headed directly into the disaster zone. Each one was fully aware of the situation they would face when they arrived. They knew it would be demanding, stressful and both physically and emotionally draining, yet each set off committed and determined to do their part.

Erecting a mast in Port au Prince. Photo credit:WFP/FITTEST

Ivan Klicko from Croatia, and Caroline Muganda from Kenya, are being deployed directly to Port Au Prince, Haiti. Ivan is an Electrical Specialist with FITTEST (Fast IT and Telecommunications Emergency and Support Team) and will assist the team in the installation of electrical equipment, telecommunications antennas and repeater towers, as well as programming radios.

When asked how he felt about what he was to face in Haiti, Ivan said, “Before joining FITTEST, I was in the military so I am prepared for the humanitarian disaster that we will see. I will cope with it by concentrating on what I do.”  It’s this commitment to their work in the harshest of conditions which brings a special breed of person to become part of an emergency response team that will help countries in need, while supporting one another.  Ivan explained, “I expect the operation to be very active and fast. In emergencies, people always work together and help each other. I’m looking forward to that” he said.

Unlike Ivan, this will be Caroline’s first mission where, as a Project Assistant, she will provide support to the team in administration and finance, budget tracking, inventory and EMMA (Emergency Management Application). “I don’t really know what to expect from this mission,” said Caroline, “Right now, to be honest, my mind is completely blank. I’ve spoken to other people from the team and they have briefed me in regards to what to take, like medication, sleeping bag, tent and what I need to do before I leave but I don’t really know how I feel.”

While unsure of what to expect, Caroline does know that the support network of her fellow emergency responders will see her through, “I know that we will be walking into a very grim picture but I am prepared. I know what my job is and what is required of me so I will do my best. Everyone will cooperate as one team so we will be fine.”

While many aid workers are pouring into Haiti, the difficult conditions and infrastructure mean that most agencies are establishing additional support operations in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.  Michael Dirksen, a Dutch Senior Telecommunications Specialist with FITTEST, has been deployed to Santo Domingo to be part of these support operations. 

“I’ll help with the upgrade and extension of the telecommunications systems and existing IT networks and also support the back stopping operations for Port Au Prince” said Michael who is no stranger to dealing with humanitarian emergencies, bringing an experienced perspective. “I’ve been with FITTEST for six and a half years so I have been to a lot of emergency operations, including Somalia and Iraq. I expect the usual when we get there. I know it will be stressful and I’m a little anxious, but I’m also focused on what needs to be done. As FITTEST, we are always at the forefront during emergency situations but we always work as a team.”

William Gonzalez, IT Network Architect, Port Au Prince Photo credit:WFP/FITTEST

The fourth member of the latest ICT deployment team is South African William Gonzalez.  As an IT Network Architect, he will be travelling between Port Au Prince and Santo Domingo to help in creating the bridge between the frontline operations and back office support.

“I’ll be assisting in planning and designing the network infrastructure, helping to ensure the fullest communications services are provided to all agencies operating, not just voice and data.”  William too has seen his fair share of humanitarian emergencies, yet acknowledges that there is still some nervousness involved in any deployment that is overcome through strong personal relationships with other team members, “It’s a pretty scary situation there really. I don’t expect much but we will cope just fine. I’ve been exposed to situations like this before and I know most of the guys who I’ll be working with already. In a situation like this, teamwork is the key. You need friendships and bonds. Everyone helps their buddy. If anyone has any issues, then we work it out together. As long as we have that, then we will be fine.”

Be it their first mission or another in a long string of previous deployments, each member of the team who headed towards the Haiti emergency last night is focused and 100 per cent committed to the cause. Despite what the news headlines and their team members already in Haiti tell them about what they are about to face, they are enthusiastic and full of energy. They are all prepared, both professionally and personally, to commit themselves to their tasks, and they know that together, they can face any challenge that the on-the-ground reality will bring.

It is this sense of oneness, of all striving towards the same goal, that will make the global humanitarian community’s response to this emergency in Haiti successful.  Each individual, those on the ground, those preparing to go, and those just arriving, regardless of which UN agency, non-governmental organisation or stand-by partner they are from, are working as a unified team to help the people of Haiti who have suffered so much.  It is still early days for Haiti, and there is a long way to go in its rebuilding, but the international humanitarian community will stand together with the Haitian people as one team to see it through.  Un pour tous, tous pour un.