2014 Humanitarian Hero Sandra Black

DUTY STATION: Central African Republic
POSITION: Communications officer

"I develop a connection with the individuals whom I interview and photograph. Several have since chosen to leave the country. I hope that they are safe and have been able to improve their situation."

WHY DID YOU BECOME A HUMANITARIAN WORKER OR VOLUNTEER?

I became a humanitarian worker out of a desire to help those who are in greatest need. International humanitarian work engages my interest in intercultural exchange, and utilizes my communication and foreign language skills.

WHAT'S THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR WORK?

I have a sense of fulfilment when I realize that my communications efforts bring attention and resources to the crisis in Central African Republic.

I am grateful to the IOM program beneficiaries who allow me to take pictures and publish their stories for communications materials. They are open to share personal accounts of the conflict; thousands of people have fled their homes, lost all of their belongings, and are now living in displacement sites. I salute their desire to move forward after losing their livelihoods and seek peace in their neighbourhoods.

I appreciate the willingness of national co-workers to banter in Sango to help me develop local language skills. In the IOM office, I enjoy interacting with colleagues from a variety of countries and often use my French, Spanish, Portuguese and Sango language skills in one day.

I cherish this opportunity to have daily contact with the people here, to visit this beautiful country, and to have this amazing multi-cultural experience.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF YOUR WORK?

More than two million people affected by the crisis are in need of humanitarian assistance. IOM’s community stabilization program assists thousands to restart their economic activities. IOM feeds and shelters thousands more through camp coordination, but due to financial constraints cannot provide the quantity of aid requested.

There are always competing priorities in communications; grant writing, media relations, and public information material production. At night, I type until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, and then start again at 6am the next day.

I develop a connection with the individuals whom I interview and photograph. Several have since chosen to leave the country. I hope that they are safe and have been able to improve their situation.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE WORK YOU DO?

From interviewing Muslim families trapped at displacement sites, to photographing West African-evacuees at the airport in Bangui, to giving a presentation at a press briefing in Geneva, my communications officer position with IOM is a multifaceted adventure. IOM assists displaced people here through distribution of food and relief items, management of a community stabilization project, and provision of displacement tracking information to humanitarian actors. I am honoured to offer assistance and to be a part of humanitarian action in CAR.

My responsibilities include writing press notes and situation reports, briefing journalists, and developing communications campaigns to promote social cohesion.

I always keep a pressed shirt and shoes in the office in case of TV interviews or meetings with ministers, and also have my IOM T-shirt and sneakers ready to visit displacement sites

WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED DURING YOUR WORK?

In April, I made several visits to PK12, a neighbourhood of one square kilometre in northern Bangui where over 1,300 Muslims and ethnic minorities were trapped, surrounded by Anti-Balaka militia. Many residents had fled to PK12 in December and January to take refuge from attacks on their villages north of Bangui.

More than 20 people were killed in frequent attacks on PK12, including the elderly, women and children. As per residents’ request, the Humanitarian Community made a decision that the neighbourhood should be evacuated as a last resort, life-saving operation.

I joined IOM colleagues during the registration and community sensitization meetings in PK12. Eventually, I assisted in the evacuation of two convoys carrying 1352 people when they left Bangui for northern and eastern CAR. They were heading towards an uncertain future, but were gratefully looking forward to a safer living environment.

During my visits I met Idris, a 16-year-old, who was separated from his family when their village was attacked. He wanted to go north to join his mother and sisters. He was so grateful for the transportation assistance IOM provided to Moyen-Sido. He said with an enormous smile, “May God bless these people [humanitarians] more than is possible.”