Meet the Member: Cheryl McDonald

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Arriving just days after famine in South Sudan was announced, WASH advisor Cheryl McDonald was called by the British Red Cross Emergency Response Unit to help respond to the refugees fleeing into Northern Uganda.

Things are beginning to settle in here. We have set up our base camp in the rapidly-expanding Imvepi camp. The Ugandan Government has a generous approach to refugees as they are allowed to take on jobs, roam freely and are given land.

The refugees arrive first at the reception centre which is becoming increasingly overwhelmed. The centre at Imvepi is designed for 1,800 refugees but there are currently 14,000 people who spend up to 5 days here before they are allocated plots.

A day in the life

We stay half an hour’s drive away from the camp so it’s an early start to the day. Since I arrived here in early March there hasn't been a typical day but we generally have a team briefing to see what the priorities are for the day, a walk around the refugee reception centre to check the facilities are meeting demand, check up on contractors to make sure things are on track and then supervising the activities. I try and grab a soda in the afternoon and a snack if I have time. There is a daily interagency meeting where all partners gather to discuss some of the challenges they are facing. We then head home before it gets dark and hopefully grab a shower if there is water. After dinner it's a chance to catch up on emails and planning activities before heading to bed exhausted!

A day in the life
People queue for a food distribution in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda
People queue for a food distribution in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda

No easy way back

The job is not too technically challenging, but things are constantly changing: for example, the numbers of beneficiaries, where the government want you to work, and which other partners are working there with you. Also, you are working in extreme conditions: it’s dusty, swelteringly hot and the climate is physically draining. I find it really hard seeing so many kids who have been separated from their families in the chaos of fleeing the fighting yet they still manage a smile. However, until there is peace in South Sudan, there is no fast solution - and no easy way back for the refugees.

Someone described the work out here like a community development programme on speed. We are giving relief assistance whilst trying to give the refugees opportunities to become self-reliant. For example, our communal latrine programme is followed closely with encouraging household to dig their own latrines by lending digging kits and supporting slab construction. The long-term vision is that refugees become settled into local structures and can grow their own food and develop livelihoods.

Cheryl has previously undertaken humanitarian work in Burkina Faso, DRC, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe where she was working in WASH and project management. She previously worked in RedR’s Learning and Development Team and has been a RedR Member since 2003.

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