Aspiring Humanitarians in Nepal

In the aftermath of the recent Nepal earthquake, a group of six local women found their way to WFP's Humanitarian Staging Area in Kathmandu, determined to support the humanitarian operation in any way they could. With a little luck, plenty of determination and the guidance of a seasoned logistician, it wasn't long before the women were managing stocks, driving forklifts and doing just what they came to do.

“‘I want to volunteer. Just tell me what I can do to help.’ This is all she said,” recalls Bruno, a Logistics Officer seconded from German NGO Welthungerhilfe, about his first encounter with Richie, one of six Nepalese women who reached out to WFP to offer their support to the emergency teams on the ground.  

As the coordinator and manager of WFP’s Humanitarian Staging Area (HSA) in Kathmandu, Bruno said the young woman had arrived at the strategic hub at Tribhuvan International Airport with “only with her CV and a great deal of determination,” in the hopes of joining the emergency response team.

A former operations manager at a bank, Richie was planning to move to the United States on a scholarship to study at the University of Minnesota when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck. “So many people I knew were severely affected. My family and I had been lucky to escape the earthquake unscathed. I felt compelled to do something to help those who had been less fortunate,” says Richie. She heard the newly opened WFP hub at Kathmandu’s airport was functioning as the main operational headquarters for sorting relief items arriving from all over the world, and their onward air and overland journey to affected areas. “It was exactly the place I needed to be, if I were to do something worthwhile for my people,” Richie says.

Bruno knew Richie’s banking skills, knowledge of the country’s geography, language, and hands-on, flexible approach to work would be great assets to his team. She was hired as a storekeeper right away.

Soon after, more help arrived: College teachers Babi, Sujita and Barkha and two more, Arti and Arunima, were also committed to doing their part in the rehabilitation efforts.

“There I was, surrounded by six extremely skilled and talented women, willing to go out of their way to do some of the most pressing and exhausting work -- they were all hired as tally clerks, and instantly proved they could pretty much do anything without flinching,” Bruno says.

The six women were spending up to 12 hours a day, often under the scorching sun, running warehouses, overseeing labourers and “managing big trucks,” says Babi smiling.  With Bruno’s help, they learned how national and international humanitarian players work together to respond to rapid-onset emergencies, and complex logistics operations. “It’s an incredible learning experience and I really enjoy managing the goods of hundreds of different organisations involved in relief efforts,” says Barkha. “I feel part of a global movement devoted to helping the people of Nepal.

In addition, the women have become experts at driving a forklift.

When the US Military scaled down its operations at Kathmandu’s airport, they left behind a team of six, who offered to provide training sessions to “ensure continued capacity after their departure,” explains Bruno.

“Because the forklift operators were always so busy, I couldn’t move cargo when I needed to,” says Richie. “I was happy to learn how to drive a forklift, so that I could move cargo myself, in case no one else was available.” After weeks of training, operating a forklift was second nature for Bruno’s six new humanitarians.

For some of the women, this opportunity may be bringing about a possible career change.

When Bruno and other international staff leave the Humanitarian Staging Area, Richie will continue to run operations, as the new hub supervisor. Richie is even considering postponing her Master’s degree, so that she can spend more time working with WFP and the Logistics Cluster.

“There is still so much that needs to be done at the hub, and we can’t leave now.”