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The People not the Place

By Jennifer Haddow

Disclaimer: The views are those of the author's alone and do not represent the views of UNA-Canada.

From My Screen to Yours

Just like most of us, in the pre-COVID-19 pandemic days “remote work” was a fairly foreign concept to me. How did that work? If you couldn’t pop your head around someone’s office door where did you direct your 101 questions? How would you juggle staring at a screen 8+ hours a day with retaining functioning eyeballs? Perhaps most of all, how would you get to know your team? Could a sense of collective purpose be formed in a virtual world?

These were all questions that were front of mind this past summer as I joined the 5th cohort of UNA-Canada’s International Youth Internship Programme (IYIP).

JPC Jen enjoying downtime in her remote-working location of Ottawa

Day to Day 7,187 km away

As a Remote Reports Officer - Junior Professional Consultant placement with the World Food Programme in Sierra Leone, I’ve had have an incredible opportunity so far to learn more about the reality of food security programming and resilience building activities. Small but densely populated, Sierra Leone is located on the North Atlantic coast of West Africa. Despite being home to the largest natural harbour on the African continent and rich in minerals, economic hardship and poverty levels in the country are high. 53 percent of the population is living below the income poverty line (US$1.25 per day), thus, the programs and initiatives put in place by WFP Sierra Leone are truly life changing.

As a Remote Reports Officer, I consume in-depth reports from across the office’s programming teams and focus on developing synthesized, digestible briefs for donors, partners, and the general public. In turning 58 pages of data into 2-4 pages of informative, direct, and actionable material I have the opportunity to learn so, so much about varied approaches to food security, sustainable agriculture, social protection programming and climate sensitive planning.

Jen remotely supporting her office WFP Sierra Leone in working towards the goals of SDGs 2 and 17

The Realities of Remote

So, what is the reality of a remote position? In my experience, working for the World Food Programme remotely is just as enriching as I’d hoped. There are of course challenges to remote work. Challenges that require being equipped with a toolkit of strategies that some of my wonderful JPC colleagues have written in depth about (I highly recommend checking out their blogs). However, aside from time differences, technical difficulties, Zoom fatigue and the need to become best pals with my blue light glasses, I have found the biggest adjustment has been reconciling my experience as someone living in Canada with the experience of most Sierra Leoneans.

Sierra Leone is incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which of course is intrinsically linked with food insecurity, malnutrition and resource-based conflict. Some days more than others I need a few extra self-reminders that despite not being able to support on the ground in Sierra Leone, I am part of the World Food Programme ecosystem which is advancing new and innovative ways to help food insecure communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate shocks and stresses.

One thing that originally drew me to study and work in the realm of human rights was the power of collective action, and it was one of the main things that excited me about becoming a JPC and working with WFP. Even through virtual channels it is clear that my colleagues are passionate, experienced, and driven, and it’s very fulfilling to know my work can help equip them with the tools necessary to further WFPs important programming!

Coming from previous professional experience that focused more on human rights and conflict studies, this experience has brought a new element into focus. One that I’m excited to incorporate as I complete Masters applications this fall, and look at furthering my career in transitional justice and humanitarian aid work.

The People not the Place

Above all, as we near the halfway mark of my placement with the World Food Programme in Sierra Leone I am reminded that it is so often the people, not the place that make an experience impactful.


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