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Field Travel Safety training in Kenya: "My knowledge gap has been bridged"

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Charity Kola is Field Manager for FilmAid in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. She tells us how RedR's Field Travel Safety training - part of our ECHO-funded partnership with INSO - has made a difference to the way she, and her organisation, manage security when moving around.

Can you tell me about your role and your organisation? Why did you feel that it was important for you to undergo security training?

I’m the Field Manager for FilmAid in Dadaab, so I’m in charge of all the operations in the camp, but I’m also the security focal point, which means that the buck stops with me when it comes to security. Our work is not specifically related to security - we provide information and communication aid support to refugees and their host communities - but working in Dadaab can be a volatile security environment. Not only do I have to be able to make sober decisions regarding staff safety and security on a case-by-case basis, I have to be able to mainstream security into programme design and into all the stages of the project cycle.

I wasn’t aware of many of the gaps in our organisational or even my individual security before the training. There are so many things that we took for granted but which the training really put into perspective, such as how to survive in a hostile environment. Everyone should know what to do when faced with small arms fire, especially in North-Eastern Kenya because according to security reports that is one of the main security risks!

What did you learn from the course that was most directly applicable in your day-to-day work?

Kidnapping and abduction is one of the major threats that we face, both because of the region we work in and because of general trends in the NGO sector, so that was an important aspect. 

I also found the sessions on trip planning useful. Initially we weren’t considering things like checkpoints and roadblocks during trip planning. Thanks to the training, I realised that of course these things need to be taken into account and incorporated. There can be a tendency to leave trip planning to the driver, convoy leader or security officer, but I now realise that it should be a team effort - and of course, on the move, everyone should be on the alert, not just the driver. Road movement outside the camps doesn’t apply to our field operations - we usually fly - but we quite often have to undertake road trips, for example, if a vehicle is being serviced in Nairobi or Garissa.

What areas of learning have you passed on to your colleagues since the training?

Trip planning, of course, I thought was very important and needed to be passed on urgently.

Interpersonal communication was also very important. You find that, in the field, people have a lot of competing interests, which can lead to miscommunication, which leads to conflict, which can degenerate into a security issue. For instance, drivers tend to be local staff, from Dadaab and the surrounding area, and field officers tend to be national staff who have been deployed from other parts of the country. So if you’re not on good terms with your driver, this could easily degenerate into something which is much bigger than the original incident and could have been mitigated with proper interpersonal communication.

And, given the general trends in the NGO sector, the kidnapping and abduction do’s and don’t’s were very useful and I have passed these on to my colleagues.

How do you think participation in this training has positively impacted your own work?

If I take stock, my knowledge gap has been bridged, and the attitude that I had towards security has also changed a lot. Before I thought that security was a one-off thing which should be dealt with by the security officer, but now I see that with proper training everyone can manage their own security and the security of their team.

In what ways do you think this training will improve your organisation’s operations and the impact on beneficiaries?

The training was attended by myself and three other members of the FilmAid team, so if you consider that we have 16 field staff in Dadaab, our capacity has really been built in terms of security. Four of us attended the training and if each one of us shared the knowledge with one colleague who did not attend the training, that brings the number of people with improved security knowledge, skills and capacity to eight. 

I also realised that we need to adjust some things in our day-to-day operations, especially in terms of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and how we share these. I’m planning to take this up to our management as I’d like to, say, have SOPs in a mini booklet that can be referred to on the go. This would apply both for our field offices and in Dadaab, more specifically.

Anything else that you’d like to tell us?

The facilitators were very, very good. And I also liked the mixed methodology - the use of text resources, films, simulations, and group work made the learning very interesting.

In terms of improvements, I’d like to see some more fire and first aid training, rather than purely security. And the frequency of such trainings could be increased!

Our Partners

This project is being implemented with the support of the European Commission - Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), and in partnership with the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO).