A year in the life of an intrepid aid worker

“2011: one of the most exciting years of my working life!

Here are the top 20 ups and downs of my year:

  1. In January, I moved to South Africa, to work with our East and Southern Africa Regional team. I first came to this continent to work in Zimbabwe two years ago, and I fell in love with it immediately.
  2. I learnt fantastic new names in my first week. I remember sitting on my sofa and repeating “Vereeniging” to myself. It took me a year to figure out how it’s spelt!
  3. I passed my driving test in the most crowded area of Pretoria. As they say,  “If you can drive in New Delhi, you can drive anywhere.”
  4. One of my first tasks was to review what we’d accomplished in the last year. It made me realise that we don’t hear that much about Africa in India, and we really should.
  5. My first field trip was to Kenya, and I was excited about applying my experience of ‘popular mobilisation’ for our Everyone campaign there. I interned with Ogilvy & Mather in New Delhi, and I’m so excited that we’re working with them now in Kenya.
  6. I waited, and waited, — and waited! — to get a visa to Angola. Finally, I had to withdraw my application to be able to travel elsewhere.
  7. I went to a press launch of a project where we’re training kids to be media monitors. It was such a lovely way to get more children involved in development, and become good citizens.
  8. I could hardly contain my excitement at a presentation on the possibility of using SMS and other mobile phone technology for campaigning in Africa. Many of the poorest people in Africa have cellphones — and with such high literacy rates in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, it’s an enormous opportunity.
  9. My parents came for their first visit to Africa. We went to the Kruger National Park, and I hugged lion cubs.
  10. I trained staff in Tanzania about what popular mobilisation means. I blogged about this earlier in the year.
  11. Renewing my work permit took ages. I hear it’s the bane of many international aid workers’ lives.
  12. I got a lump in my throat as I left Asia. Our office in New Delhi is now closed, and I made some really great friends there. We have a brand new office in Singapore now and that’s where all the action is.
  13. News about the drought in East Africa made my heart sink. Please support the life-saving work we’re doing there.
  14. In August I went to New York for a friend’s wedding and visited our office there. We were making frenzied preparations to influence policymakers, who would attend the UN general Assembly in September to take steps to reduce child mortality. I helped write briefings for Kenyan ministers attending some of those meetings. I missed our rally in Times Square but supported it whole heartedly all the way from Africa.

    Hundreds of supporters came together in Times Square to create a giant mosaic with one simple message: Health workers save lives.
  15. The South African first lady Mrs Zuma gave out knitted caps and blankets made by our supporters in Germany. Keeping a newborn warm prevents pneumonia, one of the biggest killers of babies across the world.
  16. Politically, things changed rapidly in many countries across the continent. It certainly looks as though dictators are out, and democracy is in.
  17. There are electric fences on most properties here in South Africa. I keep setting off the security alarm in my own house by mistake.  The armed security officer and his guard dog know me well as a result.
  18. I have been picking up a bit of Afrikans. And, have learnt a suprising number of rhyming words: plakkie (slippers), tekkie (trainers), bakkie (pick-up truck), boytjie (little boy), sprokie (fairytale), potjie (a pot of food) and biertjie (beer).
  19. I wrote a haiku for a World AIDS day challenge: “I have to get tested. It’s the best way I know. To be stronger than HIV.”
  20. It was my first Christmas away from home. I made it, thanks largely to my lovely new friends in this country.

Have a wonderful 2012!

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