“I enjoy my work because I can see that it makes a real difference to people here.”
Simon is a man of many words. He has a loud voice, a big smile, and an even bigger heart. He exudes joy and determination with every movement he makes, despite the fact that he had leave his home and seek safety at the UN House IDP camp in December after fighting broke out in Juba on December 15th 2013.
‘I have been in the camp since 5th January and stay at the Humanitarian Hub. We’re a team of seven that work on emergency food security, distribution of water and public health promotion and sanitation.’
Having worked at the camp since January, Simon is now a household name at the camp. People stop him every chance they get to have a conversation or just to say hello or thank you. This is testament to the hard work Simon puts to ensure that the needs of the people in the camp are met.
“I am up by six o’ clock in the morning to start my day. After taking breakfast and discussing the day ahead with the team, I head out to the camp to mobilize the community. I coordinate closely with the camp leaders and other organizations to ensure that work moves as efficiently as possible.’
Lack of fuel to cook food was one of the greatest challenges facing the people housed at the UN House camp in Juba. Leaving the camp to collect firewood was too risky and buying charcoal from vendors was too expensive, Oxfam started distributing charcoal vouchers in response to this.
‘Oxfam prints the vouchers and we distribute them to the people in the camp. This allows them to exchange it for two sacks of charcoal at a designated vendor in the camp. This really helped families because no one had to risk their lives looking for firewood outside the camp. It also provided a cost effective option to ensure that families enjoy regular meals.’
According to Simon, the response has been overwhelming. ‘People always say that we’re doing good work. They appreciate that we are tackling practical matters that affect them on a daily basis. They are always asking what we will do next. I feel good working on something that is appreciated. I enjoy my work because I can see that it makes a real difference to people here.
As rewarding as it is, Simon faces many challenges days supporting those in need at the camp.
‘It’s was easy to mobilize such a large number of people. It has improved now that there are structures and systems in place, but initially it was extremely difficult. After undergoing such an experience, people were traumatized. Running for your life, losing friends and family as well as all your belongings changes you. Being in that frame of mind and at the same time trying to survive in a new camp is a difficult space to be in. It was understandable that people looked to us as the solution and as hope that things will get better, even for a short time. To start a project at that time was challenging but we managed to do it.’
‘Time management is something that we have been working on. When we set certain times for distribution, some people come late and do not get the vouchers. We can’t stay late because of security so they have to wait for the next distribution, which is not ideal.’
Simon, however, works by a strict code that ensures that activities move along swiftly and eliminates potential road blocks.
‘My principle when I am working is to block everything else out and focus on the work at hand. At that time, I have no friends or relatives. I do the job systematically to avoid any type of favoritism or corruptions. These are things that cause problems in the long run. I was not popular in the beginning. People said I was too harsh but now they tell me that it was the right way to work and that I should keep at it.’
He humbly reflects on the fact that people seek him out. ‘People come to me when they want to know what’s happening in the camp or out there. They share their problems with me and we discuss the general state of people in South Sudan. I appreciate these conversations.’
Simon is a father of four. His wife and children are safe in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. He speaks of his hopes three months since the start of the unrest in Juba.
‘I miss my family and friends. I miss the freedom to sit down and have a conversation with them anywhere. I hope for peace so that no more lives are lost. I hope for to be able to work and live in a peaceful environment.’
Oxfam is supporting over 10,000 people in UN House the supply of clean water, public health promotion, construction of latrines and the provision of charcoal vouchers with support from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).