2014 Humanitarian Hero Wonesai Workington Sithole
DUTY STATION: Papua New Guinea
POSITION: Disaster Risk Reduction
“One village has adopted me in as their first-born son, which is a huge honour. My new name is 'Asa Hapa' meaning 'first born of Labu community'."
WHY DID YOU BECOME A HUMANITARIAN WORKER OR VOLUNTEER?
Growing up in Zimbabwe I witnessed a country in decline as people no longer felt safe or secure and could no longer commit to productive activities. The humanitarian workers shone the brightest light, giving hope to many faceless Zimbabweans and selflessly helping people when the country itself did not seem to care.
Having these role models caring and achieving wonderful results inspired me to dedicate my life to follow their footsteps.
WHAT'S THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR WORK?
It is very gratifying being part of a global team that is making a positive difference to people’s lives in many different ways. The areas where IOM is working in PNG is prone to many types of natural disasters and have the added complexity of also being subjected to spontaneous outbursts of tribal violence.
I am working with people in remote villages who live in houses made from whatever they can collect from the surrounding jungle; their food comes from what they can grow or catch and their running water is usually a creek or fast flowing river. By ensuring that they will be safe, have food and housing when the next disaster strikes is immensely rewarding.
Even more heart-warming is the strong personal bonds that I build up with the villagers as we work together.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE WORK YOU DO?
At IOM we realise that it is better to reduce the risk to disasters rather than to have people die, be left injured and to be without the basic necessities of life after a disaster.
I work with communities to ascertain the type of disasters that they are commonly subjected to and the resultant risks. I encourage the inclusion of all socio-economic groups within the community to be involved in disaster risk management planning and implementation to give total community ownership.
Together, we identify community-based solutions utilising available resources and methodologies that are known to have a high success rate.
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED DURING YOUR WORK?
Upon arriving in a village in northern Papua New Guinea I met a community whose people looked like me. They started crying when I told them I come from Africa. Being the first African in the village I had an opportunity to share stories from my homeland and to talk about HIV/AIDS and natural as well as man-made disasters. I told them about the people’s reaction to these problems and how they changed both their attitudes and the way they lived to be more resilient.
One of the biggest changes in Africa was the perception of the role of women in the society. By using examples from Africa I was able to encourage the people in PNG to empower their women as the foundation of their risk reduction and development.