Blog - ECHO in the field

Being part of the first European Humanitarian Aid Voluntary Corps pilot – impressions from Tajikistan

Cecilia (at front wearing a white T-shirt) along with the 24 other volunteers participating in the pilot project that has launched the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps. 12/01/2012 – “We want to place Tajikistan back on the map of the humanitarian community” says Cecilia Corriga on the phone from Dushanbe. The 29-year old Sardinian is one of the first of 25 volunteers currently participating in the first European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps pilot project being run by Save the Children, NOHA & Bioforce. Recalling her first impressions of a Save the Children assessment mission she joined in late October, 2011 she says ‘Food security is becoming an issue of concern for Save the Children here in Tajikistan ‘she explains. ‘We found that the southern provinces are particularly hard hit by erratic weather patterns which have destroyed crops for three consecutive years. In the mountainous, stunningly beautiful countryside around the southern city of Kurgan-Tyube we visited small cotton farms and subsistence farmers affected by this year’s early snow. There, whole families live in tiny one-room houses, without electricity and running water, not having enough money to buy fuel or wood to heat their home because what little money they have is kept to buy food ‘.Cecilia was deployed to Dushanbe, Tajikistan with Save the Children UK, after she completed  a one month intensive training in Pensarn, UK. She explained that as part of Save the Children’s country team, her tasks include carrying out assessment missions, supporting advocacy efforts and drafting funding proposals.

Cecilia majored in international relations and human rights in Rome, joined the Erasmus programme and has accumulated four years of experience with the permanent mission of Italy to the UN, as well as work with NGOs in Italy, Nepal and the UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan. ‘I applied for this programme because it is the only one that offers 10 months in the field out of its 12 months cycle. I will spend four and a half months in Tajikistan and then another five in Zanzibar

And what added value does this Humanitarian Aid Corps launched and co-funded by ECHO have for the humanitarian community? ‘Well trained, motivated people,’ answers Cecilia. ‘There is no other programme that frames and accompanies the experience in the field through training. We had one month of preparatory training in the UK, and while we are in the field we are following long distance training courses on specific issues such as needs assessments, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and child protection. On top of this we will have another month of training between the two deployments.

For Cecilia, her Tajikistan mission of four and a half months has flown by ‘Once you know everybody, learned to work with them and have found your way around you are already leaving’, nevertheless she is already looking forward to her stay in  Zanzibar. It will be her first experience in Africa and with temperatures of -10 to -20 in Dushanbe, failing heating systems, power cuts which imply no running water, and early nightfall, the thought of a warmer climate is alluring. ‘I grew up on the beach in Italy’ she says,‘I can manage in Russian and I have learned a few sentences in Tadjik, but I am not very good at handling the cold. Zanzibar will be a total change and another great learning experience.’

The Call for Proposals for the 2012 round of pilot projects has just been launched. The deadline is 5 March 2012 and the new pilots are expected to start in May 2012 opening more opportunities for Europeans to engage as Humanitarian Aid Corps Volunteers and we expect plenty more interest from aspiring humanitarians across Europe.

Interview by phone on 3 January 2012 by Heinke Veit, Regional Information Officer, Amman

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