Celebrating World Humanitarian Day – Fatmata in Gambela, Ethiopia
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Published on 18 August 2014

Celebrating World Humanitarian Day – Fatmata in Gambela, Ethiopia

This week we celebrate World Humanitarian Day—a time to recognize our staff who are in the field, every day.  Since conflict began in South Sudan over eight months ago, more than 180,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring Ethiopia.  Fatmata Kokobaye is head of WFP office in Gambela responsible for providing life-saving support to South Sudanese refugees. Gambela is also an important corridor for food assistance to get into South Sudan, by air, land or river. Here she tells us her story. 

What was your first job in development?

In 2002, I was a project officer for a local NGO in Sierra Leone. The war had recently ended and there was a lot of work to be done for the country to rebuild and recover from the impacts of the war.   The project was focused on assisting and supporting people, particularly woman, rebuild their lives through the provision of seeds and vocational training.

When did you join the UN and what is your daily work as heading the Gambela sub-office?

I joined WFP in December 2003 as a field food aid monitor and my first area of work was School Feeding.  At that time, WFP was providing food assistance to primary school children in one of the districts in the northern region of Sierra Leone. 

In Gambela, I wake up in the morning with a lot to do: managing staff, coordinating activities, networking with partners and working with sister agencies.  Balancing all this is very challenging but we all know emergency operation is not an easy task.  It needs a lot of coordination, patience, expertise, and a rapid response.  I also need to also make sure that our team of staff have a positive enabling environment.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Managing people is the most challenging part of my work.  You have to carefully maintain the balance between the different talents and capacities and how you harness that in order to achieve the objectives of the organization.  Not only that, we are dealing with different partners who have different strategies, different ideas, and different ways of doing things.   The other challenging and stressful thing is getting access to areas where people need us.  Take for instance, Akobo, which is one of the remote areas where we provide assistance.  It is a challenging experience when it comes to really accessing people and seeing what they need and moving food to them in time.

 What are the most memorable moments in your stay in Ethiopia, particularly Gambela?

The most memorable part of my work during my stay in Ethiopia has been the smiling faces of the people we support, particularly amongst the children.  There has been a rapid increase in the number of refugees this year from  40,000 from South Sudan to 230,000 at the moment.  Two aircrafts based in Gambela are airdropping food into South Sudan, and the number of staff has doubled. So the context is quite different from what it was before the December influx, when Gambela was a much smaller sub-office. This has meant not only dealing with such a huge operational task at the sub-office, but also the team handling several high profile visitors.  
This whole experience has been incredibly rewarding for me and one that I will forever cherish.