Logistics safari

As we just “celebrated” the 20th. anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the logistics function within the humanitarian field is resonating louder and louder these days. It draws some politician’s attention, definitely some journalists’ too, and it touches people: the ones being assisted in the potential betterment of their life and the ones providing this very assistance. Dealing with emergencies. i.e. life-threatening situations (for all parties involved), is regular occurrence, more so in remote areas, where supporting locals in their everyday life is often the most critical and helpful act a humanitarian can do.

While I travelled to and explored South Africa in 2007, I couchsurfed with a couple of humanitarians who were working with special needs children at Sterreweg, a local school in New Horizons, Plettenberg Bay. They took me to the Qolweni township one night, away from the local white beaches and the now-flourishing organised tours. Speaking with the lady who started the Siyakula preschool, now largely supported

Siyakula preschool, Qolweni township

Siyakula preschool – Quiet in recess © OFL

by the Orca Foundation, I volunteered to help manage the 300 kids coming to their respective classes the day after, as most of the volunteer staff was away on training. This was not a life-threatening emergency scenario, and, logistically, being on her own to maintain some basic education, and discipline, among the little ones, certainly looked like some pressure I was happy to relieve her from.

Nothing was planned, and everything went pretty smoothly, for the kids, for the school coordinator (she humbly refused to be called “principal” or being referred as someone high in the school hierarchy)… and for me. To another degree, it reminded me of other projects in which I had been involved, in their planning and logistics: switching to the operations and execution phase, most of the plans had to be dropped, solely because considering how the locals (often named as “unknown”) would respond had remained at the “to be confirmed” status. Controlling a crowd at an international sport event, with the help of security experts, is almost easy compared to this.

Later that year, once back to a Western part of the world, I read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, a book he wrote 40 years after his fist experience in Africa, where he experienced feelings of anxiety, even despair, about aspects of the “new” Africa – worried about the “wrong” kind of aid, corruption and the sort of westernisation that destroys some valuable social customs in the name of progress. Those are dark reflections indeed. Yet a little push, such as micro-finance or providing bicycles to a community, seems to improve some lives here and there, one at a time. Having spoken with professionals who work on the field, I know there are many other initiatives to tackle: getting the locals engaged and actually taking these initiatives is essential to their success, logistically and humanly. In Swahili, “Safari” means “journey”: we have a long one to go.