WFP Staffer Helps Rebuild People's Lives in Zambia
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Published on 3 August 2010

WFP Zambia Deputy Country Director, Dr. Purnima Kashyap, with children in a remote village in Zambia. Copyright: WFP/Rein Skullerud

“Seeing the desperation and helplessness of people following the earthquake in Haiti was the most emotionally and physically draining experience of my career”, said Purnima Kashyap, Deputy Country Director, World Food Programme (WFP) Zambia, who was a part of the Humanitarian Assistance team soon after the Haitian earthquake in January 2010.

Purnima will never let go of an opportunity to help rebuild people’s lives. With a PhD in public health and nutrition, she has applied her knowledge and over two decades of field experience in developing and implementing pragmatic and people centered programmes, especially focusing on women and children. 

Purnima began her career as a dietitian at Safdarjang Hospital in her native country of India. Following her stint at the hospital Purnima joined the Indian Council for Medical Research, where she worked as an Assistant Research Officer, evaluating the national nutrition anemia prevention programme. Purnima joined WFP India Country Office in 1991 as a Programme Officer. One of her greatest achievements there was the development of the unique fortified blend of food known as 'India Mix'. This remains very popular in the national maternal child health and nutrition programme, known as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Little did she know that years later she would find herself promoting the production of similar blended food products and recipes in other countries, combining her experience from India with local wisdom in places such as Ethiopia and Uganda.  

“Coming to Zambia in July 2007, was a time of excitement for me”, she said. Upon arrival Purnima was met with a new challenge, that of acting as the Country Director and running the Country Office for close to a year until the arrival of Pablo Recalde. She rose to the challenge and undertook a major staff review exercise which was hailed as one of the best examples in WFP and therefore a great success.  Since then she has gone on to help develop a number of disaster relief and development programmes in Zambia, in addition to maintaining ongoing country activities. Among the most innovative have been the food vouchers for the urban and peri-urban populations, and linking environment activities (tree planting, rain water harvesting and use of fuel efficient stoves) to school meals programmes through community involvement. She has contributed to the resource mobilization efforts in Zambia and is actively engaged in consultations with Government, donor and other stakeholders, as well as building new partnerships.

Purnima’s career with WFP has offered her a number of memorable experiences. Among these was her time in Haiti following the devastating earthquake.  “Seeing the desperation and helplessness of people following the earthquake in Haiti was the most emotionally and physically draining experience of my career”, said Purnima. However, despite working alongside WFP staff that had lost many friends, family, and belongings, they continued to help others without taking a day off. “The positive drive of the WFP team was a positive experience for me”, she said.

Other highlights include her involvement in the first ever joint programme between WFP, UNICEF and WHO to develop a school health and nutrition programme in Ethiopia.  Purnima also succeeded to work with IDP’s and the Karamajong people in Uganda to implement nutritional programmes in the camps, this despite needing military escorts due to the security situation.

“My greatest achievement to date has been succeeding in developing local capacity and finding solutions through pragmatic programs in association with local partners for addressing problems of hunger and malnutrition,” Purnima said. Going forward, Purnima hopes to represent WFP at a higher level, become an advocate for hunger, and continue to invest in solutions to reducing hunger and malnutrition.

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About the author

Mutinta Chiseko

Public Information Intern, WFP Zambia

Mutinta Chiseko is currently on author contract with the Public Information Unit of WFP Zambia looking at Public Information and Reporting. She has six years work experience in the media. Mutinta, who holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication from the University of Zambia, has a great passion for research, writing and communication.