In the Afghanistan crisis, I was based in the Goal UK support office in neighbouring Turkmenistan. While stationed there the team was forced to evacuate Afghanistan prior to the allied bombing of the country. Goal UK was given 48 hours to flee, leaving behind all property and assets. One of our local staff dug a hole and buried everything until we were able to return months later. Goal UK delivered 30 tonnes of food a day to villagers in the mountains of northern Afghanistan using a fleet of hired donkeys and horses. It was an amazing experience managing 100 donkeys and 50 horses. And organising night shelters for them in the extreme cold was an unforgettable experience.
After three years, I went to Sudan to work on Goal UK’s second largest relief programme as logistics coordinator. With 12 field offices, our greatest logistical challenge was the Goals and achievements distance we had to cover to deliver supplies. Air cargo shipments containing a minimum of ten tonnes of food and medicine were leaving the capital city of Khartoum to go to Darfur, Golo, and Kutum every day. We had two-hour slots to load all the planes and complete the paperwork before take-off.
Burying dead bodies after the tsunami in Sri Lanka was unforgettable. Goal UK was one of a few organisations to undertake such a task. It took us two months to clear roads and lagoons before we could start the rehabilitation stage.
In Pakistan, Goal UK had a team of seven people on the ground two days after the earthquake in October 2005. For two days, three of us loaded 60 trucks with emergency items such as blankets, tents, plastic sheeting, drinking water and kitchen sets from the airport in Islamabad to the worst hit area of Bagh. We were given half-hour slots to unload our planes and ship goods to where the rest of the team was situated. If we failed, we had to throw away the rest of the consignment. The logistical challenges were doing all this without an office in the country and having scant prior knowledge of the bureaucratic scene in Pakistan.
We worked for four more days, manually loading 20 trucks a day until US army forklifts became available and our working schedule was reduced to 17 hours. In Bagh we cleared the remains of a school under which 130 children had been buried. We later based our office near there – it was difficult to see parents coming every morning laying flowers to remember their children. At night, we slept in single fly tents and took turns to rest every four hours.
This job is not easy but it is interesting, involving seeing various cultures and traditions as well as observing different approaches to common problems. What is most difficult is feeling helpless when it comes to alleviating the emotional suffering of people. Relief items assist them physically but don’t ease their grief or heal their souls.
Goal UK is holding an information evening for logisticians and emergency managers in London on May 18. To find out more, contact Laura Byrne ON firstname.lastname@example.org