A Woman In A Man’s Nest

Radjemma Lao has been a member of our Logistics team since WFP returned to the Philippines in 2006. She has proven to be a strong woman in a domain often associated with men and has worked in several emergency settings as well as in Africa. 

“My first weeks were quite a headache.” Radjemma recalls. She joined WFP Philippines in 2006 when it returned to the country aiming to complement the government’s efforts in addressing the food security needs of vulnerable people in conflict-affected areas of Central Mindanao. Coming from the same region herself, she felt a desire to help her own people. But at the beginning, everything had to be done from scratch: the office wasn’t set up and contracts were yet to be established. For a Logistician like Radjemma, that meant a lot of work, especially for a team that has to make sure food arrives on time for the beneficiaries.

A Challenging Job

In Central Mindanao, WFP is running a wide range of projects to support formerly displaced and highly vulnerable populations. This includes School Feeding, Food-for-Work projects and special Nutrition programs for young children and pregnant and lactating women. But WFP is also ready to support the government in emergencies, such as in Eastern Mindanao, which was heavily affected by Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) and, more recently, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Visayas region. Whenever an emergency requires a joint response, WFP’s expertise in logistics is in high demand.

Under the Haiyan emergency, WFP co-leads the “Logistics Cluster”, a group consisting of government actors and humanitarian organizations that work together to ensure that all forms of life-saving relief cargo reach affected populations in time. And Radjemma admits, “Even after 7 years of logistics experience, things can be very challenging. During the Haiyan response, the WFP office in Mindanao dispatched 15 trucks with 20mt of rice each going to Tacloban. These 15 trucks were the first batch of 100 trucks coming from Mindanao.  I was tasked to escort those trucks until they reached Tacloban.” “It was a 2-day journey. After reaching Tacloban, I was told I have to stay and directly dispatch 2000mt of rice coming from Mindanao to Leyte and Samar.  Instead of 3 days I ended up staying for 14 days,” she narrates.

Working in such an environment requires fast decision-making. In 2009, when Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy)  hit the country, WFP used a helicopter to reach completely cut-off communities. At one point people in completely isolated communities were waiting for relief food to arrive and time was running out already. Radjemma had to withdraw money from her personal bank account to hire several trucks in order to make sure the rice would make it to the helicopter.

Logistics Worldwide - A Man’s Domain Radjemma pointing as men unload WFP bags of food and supplies

As a woman, Radjemma has entered a domain that is often associated with men. She once attended a Logistics training in Bangkok and noticed that, of all the participants, only two were women – including herself. But that didn’t put her off. On the contrary, she even thinks it is an advantage to be a woman in Logistics. “Everybody treats me nicely and with a lot of respect. Nobody dares shout at me, which might be quite different if I were a man,” she says.

Logistics is a WFP stronghold and Radjemma is proud to be part of that. On average, WFP reaches more than 90 million people with food assistance in 80 countries each year -- an enormous logistical effort. On any given day, WFP operates approximately 50 aircrafts, 30 ships and 5,000 trucks. Just last year alone, WFP transported more than 35,000 cubic meters of humanitarian cargo on behalf of 39 different humanitarian organizations working for the Haiyan emergency response.

Radjemma was also given the opportunity to experience first-hand the logistics operations in Uganda, Eastern Africa, which supports 7 countries in the entire region. With all that that she has been through, Radjemma is thankful that she has grown a lot professionally and is glad to be part of the organization. “WFP changed my life. You can see the impact of your own work, you can see the people you help smile.”


WFP Philippines/ Philipp Herzog and Dale Rivera