In their own words: On the frontlines of Ethiopia’s emergency responsePublished: Aug 10, 2020 Reading time: 4 minutes
Genet Yishak is a field officer for People in Need (PIN), working on a programme funded by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) in southern Ethiopia. Twenty-nine-year-old Genet joined PIN two years ago.
What drew you to this line of work? Why did you choose to do it?
Prior to working for PIN, I worked for a local NGO, where I got the chance to work with people living in extreme poverty. At the time, ethnic conflicts had arisen between the Gedeo and West-Guji zones, and this resulted in the internal displacement of people who had little or nothing to live from. We got to help and support them, and the feeling it gave me was indescribable. I knew I wanted to continue on this journey of helping people. The nature of emergencies, where we must provide people with resources very quickly, is what attracts me to this line of work. So, when the opportunity to work for PIN’s emergency programme came along, I didn’t hesitate to apply.
What is your biggest challenge when providing aid?
Time. I had my first baby four months ago and he lives with my parents in another city. Because my job is very demanding and I often work long hours, I am only able to see my son on weekends, when I travel to the city where my parents live. On Sunday evenings, I travel back to my job in Yirgacheffe district. It’s a bit difficult managing my time, but to know that my work contributes to a bigger solution helps me cope with it all. I also need to keep working to earn income and feed my family.
What are some deeper issues that you face in your daily life?
In my line of work, security is often an issue in intervention areas. While we always conduct security updates before field visits, it is sometimes difficult to predict conflicts ahead of time.
Another issue is difficulty accessing intervention areas because of bad weather. It almost always rains here and this either restricts us from visiting the chosen field sites or, if it rains after we’ve reached the intervention areas, we have to make the journey to more remote villages on foot. This can take hours and can be dangerous – I have fallen a couple of times.
I also do not get the kind of support I would like from my family. They believe this line of work is too dangerous and unsuitable for females, especially in the midst of COVID-19.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
That things are not always as they seem. I came in with the notion that working in emergency situations would be difficult and challenging. At the beginning, I doubted my abilities and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to manage the work expected from me. But I soon came to realise that when you love what you do and when you are committed to it, it becomes easy. We have good coordinators and I have made friends with my team members, so the work moves smoothly.
Has this emergency response changed you in any way and if so, how?
Yes, it has changed me, I am more knowledgeable about how the emergency program operates and because of my experienced colleagues I also understand many of its aspects. Above all, it has made me stronger and more resilient, especially because of the harsh conditions we work in.
What are some of the challenges you face with COVID-19 in your personal life?
Even though we take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting the coronavirus during work, I am sometimes scared that I’ll bring the virus back home because I travel weekly from one city to the other using public transport.
To make extra income, my family used to rent out a place for students to live in, but because of COVID-19, schools have closed and students have returned to their homes. So the place that previously generated income for my family is empty, putting pressure on me to continue working during this difficult time.