Humanitarian work: a challenging but passionate enterprise

Published: 29 January 2014 12:53 CET

Mirabelle Enaka-Kima is IFRC’s regional communication officer for Central Africa.  Based in Cameroon,  part of her role is to advocate on behalf of those most vulnerable across Central Africa. In 2013, she travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide support to refugees fleeing violence in Central African Republic.  This is her first blog. You can reach Mirabelle at

Working in the humanitarian field means contributing to reducing vulnerabilities and providing assistance to those in need, who, due to an unforeseen circumstance, a disaster or a political or social crisis, move from a state of stability and security to one of precariousness and insecurity. Putting a smile on the faces of such persons means helping them regain their lost dignity and rediscovering their zest for life.

However, working conditions are sometimes difficult as emergencies can occur without prior warning. They pull us out of bed in the middle of the night, make us miss important family events and put us in contact with new and different cultures. In spite of all these, the humanitarian experience strengthens us, gives more meaning to our lives, makes us more tolerant to accept others and their differences, helps us to respect human diversity and to adopt a culture of peace and nonviolence.

Travelling long distances, having to sleep in the open, or spending sleepless nights to ensure that food distribution is completed as scheduled are integral parts of the daily life of those men and women who devote their energy to relieving the suffering of others.

Extending a hand of comfort to those in need or uttering reassuring words to those in distress are reflexes we all have to develop and practice.

In April 2013, I had to go on mission to Equateur Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to cover the phenomenon of population movements.

This was a daunting task, due to the remote localities and settlement sites that hosted the thousands of Central Africans who were seeking refuge in this part of the DRC, which is almost inaccessible due to the lack of roads and adequate transport means.

I was part of a team of three communicators which set out from Kinshasa, where we had to find a flight to Gbadolité, one of the towns in Equateur Province where refugees had settled.

The simplest and convenient option for us was to book a humanitarian flight that regularly goes to Equateur Province. The second and less coveted option was to board a commercial flight that usually stopped over in this province, but in Mbandaka, 400 kilometres away. Road access between Mbandaka and Gbadolité is only by motorcycle and through forest paths and trails.

The field trip was scheduled to last ten days and we had already spent four days in Kinshasa with no hope of having a seat on the humanitarian flights.

So, we opted for a commercial flight, without the slightest idea about the rest of the trip as flights to Gbadolité were irregular and rare.

The trip was relatively uneventful but when we arrived in Mbandaka, we never imagined that we would spend three days there, without water or electricity, looking in the sky in the hopes that weather conditions would improve so we could continue our trip to our final destination; an essential condition for the programming of the flight.

Finally, at the end of this long wait, departure for Gbadolité was programmed.

But, because of the delays in getting there, we were very limited in the amount of time we had to carry out our mission. We were more than motivated to achieve our objectives. We worked day and night to gather information and other visibility tools like photos and video to help encourage donors to fund the operation that was being planned to support the CAR refugees.

We sometimes had to trek through bush paths or use canoes to reach far off refugee resettlement sites. Communication with refugees was friendly, despite the scorching sun and the particularly difficult living conditions for those who had settled on sandbanks along the Ubangi River. The host community was generous and hospitable.

Our small team got a taste of this difficult and challenging situation. We stayed in a makeshift hut with one dimly lit room where we worked all night. We had our single and modest daily meal in the evening in the only restaurant in the area. This meal consisted exclusively of a piece of grilled goat meat and chikouang (steamed cassava dough). We took our bath between 6 and 7 a.m., in line with the daily water distribution schedule.

Despite the fear and risks we were exposed to during this mission, we had one objective: to contribute to reducing the vulnerability of these refugees. We believe that this objective was realized, going by actions undertaken and the enthusiasm expressed by the refugees during exchanges with them.

At the end of the day, we were comforted by the fact that our mission had been accomplished with professionalism. Tools and other materials collected during this mission contributed significantly to the mobilization of financial resources that facilitated the launch of the relief operation to assist the affected population.

We ended our mission with smiles on our faces and with the firm resolve to carry out more of such enriching and hope-inspiring humanitarian undertakings.