South Sudan: It turns out mini eggs do melt

After an intense two weeks on the advanced field training (AFT) course, my mind turned towards the next half of my internship that I would be spending in South Sudan.

I felt well-prepared after six months of working and participating in training courses in London, although I was not sure how the freezing temperatures in the Welsh hills on the AFT would help in the 35+ temperatures of Africa’s largest country…

Sure enough, on arrival, it was the heat that hit me and a realisation that this rather alien environment would be home for the next six months. As soon as I stepped off the plane I started sweating and I have not stopped since. Why i packed three jumpers in my luggage I will never know. 

The first two weeks here have been quiet due to the Easter holidays (Easter day was celebrated by tucking into a melted packet of mini eggs) and the election period, but it has given me the chance to get used to the heat and settle in at a fairly relaxed pace.

All the staff here have been incredibly supportive and made me feel so welcome. I get the feeling I am joining an energetic, passionate and hard working team that support each other in what is obviously a challenging operational environment.

Juba is hard to describe, a strange mix of extreme poverty and frantic NGO activity. Both clear signs of the scale of need and almost insurmountable problems in this most fragile of states.

NGO vehicles rattle around along dusty pot holed tracks like there has been an invasion, creating a bizarre dynamic.

It is almost hard to believe that Juba is the capital city, infrastructure is basically nonexistent and the only brick buildings of more than one story belong to either NGOs or government ministries.

From the air, dusty red roads leave Juba like strands on a spider’s web leading to various hubs around this vast country.

As mentioned before, my arrival has coincided with the first elections in Sudan for 25 years. With the voting period over, and as we all await the results, there is a confidence that although everything may not run smoothly, there is too much at stake for the elections to be a complete failure.

There is a real hope among the people here and an obvious fatigue of war that will not be easily overcome.

Speaking to national staff members who have voted this week, their excitement about voting for the first time in a generation and their hope that Sudan is overcoming it tumultuous political history is palpable.

My name always causes some issues wherever I go, so I was well prepared to receive blank expressions and utter confusion at three vowel sounds together in one name.

Luckily however, due to a huge UN presence here everyone can pronounce my name! “ Euan, ah like UN,” works for me.

The food is surprisingly good, ‘the chicken man’ and, the ‘peanut lady’ are favourite lunch time spots and, of course, there is the Queen of Sheba which is a favourite to get a variety of international food stuffs and a Friday evening beer.

Lessons learned so far include:

1. Carry a water bottle at all times and treat it like an external organ

2. Always cover up your toothbrush

3. Accept health problems as an inevitable part of the induction process. In the past week, stomach problems have started and I have had a severe allergic reaction to something, resulting in my whole body being covered in huge hives. Nothing a quick injection, some unknown tablets and plenty of water didn’t solve!

I have been given some fascinating projects here in Juba which will take me to the end of the month. I have attended UNOCHA coordination meetings and have been coordinating with other agencies about partnerships and stock piling of non food items in Waat and Akobo. I am also helping to complete our Emergency Preparedness plan.

The majority of my time in South Sudan will be spent at our field bases in Waat and Akobo in the north of Jonglei State.

These are two of the largest emergency programmes that we are running and I am really excited about the opportunities these placements will give me.

I realise it will be hard work but I look forward to the challenges. In Waat I will be helping to manage food security, livelihoods,  education, and child protection programmes. In Akobo, a recent emergency nutrition programme is being implemented in response to an escalating crisis in the area.

So the jigsaw puzzle has started, and the pieces are coming together. The corner pieces were laid during training in London, the connecting pieces are being collected in Juba and, during my time in Waat and Akobo, I hope to piece it all together.

I look forward to being part of a team whose work provides children with basic necessities, gives hope and, most importantly, saves lives in South Sudan.

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