How Two Junior Professional Officers Showed Their Skills Amid Ebola Outbreak

by World Food Programme | World Food Programme
Friday, 7 October 2016 12:58 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

More than 50 Junior Professional Officers play a vital role in helping WFP carry out its work across the world, and since the Ebola emergency struck in West Africa two of these colleagues have played vital roles in helping Sierra Leone's people and aiding the recovery process. Here, Daniel Ham of Luxembourg and Fortune Maduma of Zimbabwe tell their stories and we see how their skills have seen them taking on increased responsibility. 

DANIEL'S STORY: WFP and the Rice Bag

A WFP rice bag hanging on the wall of Luxembourg's foreign ministry where he worked was enough to develop Daniel Ham's interest in the agency and his wish to gain field experience in international development.

Five months later, he found himself supporting the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit at WFP's Regional Bureau for West Africa, under the JPO programme. 

Held Out for Job with WFP

"I'd already been offered a civil service job, but I was holding out to get the job with WFP instead," Daniel says. "So when I heard that I'd been offered the JPO position in Dakar I was thrilled."

After joining in October 2013, he went on missions to several West African countries to help with training, review preparedness measures for natural disasters and disease, and work on mock-emergencies. 

Then a real emergency struck that was unique and unprecedented for WFP - the Ebola outbreak - and Daniel headed to Sierra Leone to lead food distributions under the Emergency Operation.

Oversaw Efforts to Get Food to Sick People

"I was finally doing ‘real' WFP work on the front lines of an operation," he recalls. "The first time I was involved in a food distribution, I remember hearing an audible sigh of relief from people waiting for their rations when they saw the WFP trucks pull up."

But the scale and devastation of the crisis really hit home as he flew over a vast Red Cross treatment centre in eastern Sierra Leone: "Seeing the neat rows of graves of Ebola victims really struck a chord about the seriousness and complexity of the response."

Working as a Team Player

Colleagues praised his collaborative spirit. "He was awesome - we never wanted him to go," says Senior Programme Assistant Betty Cooper. "He was committed, hard-working, and his listening skills made him the best team player."

After spending two months in Sierra Leone, Daniel has now moved to WFP's New York office, where he is part of policy discussions with humanitarian partners and follows high-level talks among UN Member States on humanitarian access.

He hopes to continue working with WFP as a Programme Officer once his time as a JPO ends.

"It's been nearly three years since that empty rice bag in Luxembourg inspired me to work for WFP," Daniel adds. "The JPO programme has granted me so many rewarding opportunities."

FORTUNE'S STORY: Entering WFP Amidst Ebola Outbreak

Fortune Maduma clearly remembers his first days at WFP's Country Office in Sierra Leone. That was in November 2014, when the country was in full throes of the Ebola outbreak.

"I was afraid to go out, even to go shopping for food in the supermarket," he says of a time when there was widespread fear about Ebola's transmission. So began Fortune's job as a Nutrition Officer, under the JPO programme.


Fortune Maduma. Photo: WFP/Anna Soper 

Opportunity to Save Lives

"It was an exciting opportunity to be part of a committed humanitarian organization that is dedicated to saving lives and preventing suffering," says Fortune. "I already had experience working with NGOs in Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Uganda," he says. "I wanted to look at new opportunities to widen my skill set."

Fortune spoke daily by phone with his worried family, assuring them he was OK. He needed to remain positive, especially for his wife who was nursing their infant daughter in South Africa.

Hard Work is Rewarded

His hard work has seen him become WFP's Head of Nutrition in Sierra Leone. As WFP looks ahead to post-Ebola challenges, Fortune is putting in place a National Targeted Supplementary Feeding Programme, aimed at over 40,000 moderately malnourished children aged between 6 and 59 months.

"I want to strengthen WFP's role as a key nutrition partner," Fortune says. "I want WFP to take a leading role in helping the government fight child and maternal malnutrition."

Fortune has worked with partners to extend nutritional support for HIV and Tuberculosis patients. He also plans to resume WFP's treatment of malnutrition for pregnant and nursing mothers in Sierra Leone. 

"Sierra Leone has improved the nutritional statistics for women and children in recent years," Fortune says, "I want to ensure the Ebola outbreak does not reverse that."