Earlier this year I went on my first field trip to Malawi to support a training programme for GOAL and local partner organisations on how we work to address malnutrition at a community level. The trip involved a week of training followed by two weeks of project visits within Malawi, specifically to Blantyre, Nsanje and Balaka districts.
My colleagues and I spend a lot of time preparing all details of the training support before we leave to ensure that our time is spent effectively while we’re there. We simply do not have the time to plan our own travel, so we use the services of Diversity Travel, our Travel Management Company.
Like most charities, GOAL is focussed on keeping admin costs down, in order to spend as much of our funding as possible directly on humanitarian programmes, so when we travel it is important for us to find the best value options. Diversity Travel has access to the special charity fares that my colleagues and I would never know about, and alerts us to any visa needs we might have when travelling to certain countries.
It was really exciting travelling to my first destination, Malawi, as I had never been to this part of Africa before, and couldn’t wait to get stuck in and start helping and supporting the communities in need. When I arrived after almost 24 hours travelling, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the air, a distinct aroma reminiscent of the maize flour porridge many local communities eat. My time in Malawi was filled with training sessions on our new NIPP nutrition programme, meetings with the field teams to understand the country and the context better and we spent time planning how the programme will roll out over the next few months. I really enjoyed my time in Malawi and was looking forward to returning after my next country visit.
The second country I visited was Zimbabwe; I flew down to Harare after the training finished in Malawi. Even though the two countries are neighbours, my organisation’s travel policy meant I had to travel through Johannesburg which extended the length of the journey, but again there were no hiccups along the way so really I can’t complain!
In Zimbabwe I visited the community activities to get a real understanding of how things look on the ground and any challenges the teams face with the project. Visiting Zimbabwe was a great learning experience for me. The team has been running the NIPP programme for over a year now so I was able to learn from their experience and share my newfound knowledge with other countries that run the project. One of the main challenges GOAL faced with the NIPP was to make people aware of their children’s nutritional status – many families don’t know whether their children are growing properly or not – and many children are not eating the right foods.
GOAL Zimbabwe noticed this issue early on and worked to improve their awareness campaigns in the communities to make mothers more aware of the stages of child growth.
After Zimbabwe, I returned to Malawi for another month to support the training. I continued the work I had begun during my first visit and was able to go out to visit some communities to see the work GOAL does first hand. This was a really great opportunity and it made me excited to see how the programme will progress over the next year. All of the communities we work in really appreciate the work GOAL does for them so they are always very happy and welcoming when visitors like me come.
At the end of August, I came back to Ireland for a few weeks to work from the GOAL head office. The flight back from Malawi to Ireland was really great, I flew through South Africa and Paris and both of my layovers were less than two hours each. The flight with Air France was really enjoyable and the long leg of the flight was overnight so I could get some sleep!
After a few weeks working in Ireland, I set off to visit South Sudan and I have been here for the last two months. Juba is a fascinating city but I’ve actually spent most of my time here at the rural field sites in Abyei and Twic County helping the NIPP programme. Travel to the field sites is an experience in itself. We use United Nations Humanitarian Air Service planes which are really tiny, with no more than 10 people on a plane! Such an exciting way to travel, although not so fun when it’s a bit windy! The rural field sites are very basic but really interesting to live in. GOAL staff have their own compound and we all live in tents. Next to our compound is one of the GOAL clinics, so each morning you hear people and children gathering to seek treatment, health education, ante natal care etc. It is lovely to see how busy and well used our GOAL clinics are, but often you see some very sick children which makes it hard.
We have been running the NIPP programme in South Sudan for 2 years now and, unlike Zimbabwe and Malawi, there are a lot more children who are at risk of dying from a lack of food.
South Sudan is the youngest country in the world and many of the systems we take for granted are yet to be fully set up, for example, roads barely exist, so it is extremely difficult to access many places by car.
I’m just finishing up my support visit to South Sudan and am due to head onto my next location, Khartoum in the next few days. South Sudan has been a really eye-opening experience and it was interesting to contrast this country with the others I have visited. I’m excited to visit Sudan now where I am sure I will experience more differences between the countries.