My role as a Livelihoods EUAV in Liberia with Concern Worldwide has been a fantastic experience. The team in Liberia are engaged with 2 main programmes, and a number of smaller projects. This has allowed me to gain a broad knowledge of the many areas these activities covered. The work done by Concern focuses on Livelihoods, food security, nutrition and WASH. This multi sector approach is giving support to over 200 communities and provided opportunity, infrastructure, knowledge and empowerment for many beneficiaries. My role has been to support the team where necessary in producing reports, gathering information, liaising with partners and stakeholders as well as sharing knowledge. Whilst doing this I also undertook an urban market analysis of the informal food markets in Monrovia and helped develop the current Community Savings & Loans Associations that are implemented across the counties of Grand Bassa and Rivercess. Having these specific projects has allowed me to really benefit the team and concentrate on areas that are crucial to Concern’s work in Liberia.
The journey involved in getting to Liberia was eventful. Having initially applied for a role in March and having an interview with Concern, I was selected to take part in the EUAV training in Austria. This was held in a small village in the mountains of Austria, whilst the work was done inside a very grand castle, not like any previous trainings I have done! This training provided an opportunity to meet fellow EUAVs and was a great way of gaining further knowledge for my future role in humanitarian and development work. Once that was completed I was officially accepted onto the programme with Concern and planning for an apprenticeship in Dublin, Concerns global base, began.
I spent two months in Dublin at the Concern head office and this was invaluable. Having spoken to a number other EUAV’s this opportunity is not available with many other organisations. It gave me an opportunity to really understand how Concern works, how it approaches the work it undertakes and the chance to meet the people who play a role in making this happening. During my time I learnt more about subjects including safeguarding, participant protection, unintended consequences and many other areas that may have otherwise not been covered in great detail without this time in Dublin. It also allowed me to get to know the people that work directly with the team in Liberia, this was not just the desk officer but also technical experts, IT support staff, the M&E team and HR. This provided me with an amazing foundation of knowledge that meant I could hit the ground running when I arrived in Monrovia, Liberia.
Prior to leaving Dublin the focus of my work had to be changed. I was due to be based in Buchannan 2 hours form the capital Monrovia, but due to travel restrictions I would remain in Monrovia and my work would have to be carried out there. Initially I viewed this as a setback as the programmes Concern work in are based outside Monrovia. However, after having time to think about the new situation I saw it as an opportunity, together with my mentor Carl, we came up with a new plan. I would focus on understanding the food markets used urbanely in order to identify key opportunities and constraints that directly affect the farmers and communities we work with. This I believe provided great insight into the global trend of urban migration, an area that is becoming more important for humanitarian and development work. Understanding food security and livelihood opportunities in this environment is crucial now and for future programming. It is an area that Concern has not covered comprehensively as yet and this gave me the platform to develop knowledge that would be of benefit both personally and organisationally.
I finally arrived in Monrovia on a rainy (I would need to get used to that over the next few weeks!) Sunday evening at the beginning of September. I was picked up by Gpapu one of the drivers based in Monrovia, he would become my guide, information provider, and sounding board as I later travelled around the city markets trying to gather information. Over the next few months I, with huge help from the national staff, visited many markets, spoke to hundreds of people and gathered a mountain of information that has given me a unique perspective of the informal food markets that serve over a million Liberians in Monrovia. This was my ‘field’ and the opportunity to work in this setting has enhanced me greatly and also meant that the work done rurally has a connection with urban population and provides tangible links. Although Liberia is an English-speaking country, with a number of local dialects, translation was often required! For the first 30 days almost everything I was told in the market I didn’t understand. I would have to turn to a colleague and ask them to repeat what was said. Without this help from the team, which I am sure was very frustrating for them at times, I would have been lost. It was their support and desire to learn more about what I was doing that really inspired me to keep going despite the hot, sweaty and often overwhelming conditions we continually found ourselves in. The result has been a well-informed report and equally important capacity building for myself and the team. It has also provided the opportunity for the poorest in Monrovia who work and purchase in the informal food markets to be heard and identify issues and constraints that can be addressed through future engagement.
Finally, the relationships I have built as a result of being part of the EUAV programme will be lifelong. The teams in Austria, Dublin and Liberia have all added immensely to my overall experience. Most notably my mentor Carl Wahl has been a huge support to me and provided me with guidance, advice, knowledge and a person I can have the odd moan too! I can’t stress highly enough how Carl has helped me get the most out of my experience. During my time things have changed and I have had to be adaptable which is good training for future roles, life rarely goes exactly as planned! Throughout this though Carl has always been available to discuss options, provide his seasoned opinion and identify the positives. This attitude and approach has helped me get the maximum out of my time as a EUAV with Concern and has really put me in good stead as I continue to grow in my career as a humanitarian and development professional. The mentor aspect of the EUAV programme is one that should not be underestimated and (although I haven’t checked with him!) has given me a personal and working relationship that I will have throughout my career. In often tough working conditions this support is key for anyone.
As my time as an EUAV draws to a close I would like to take this opportunity to recommend to anyone thinking about becoming an EUAV to go for it! And if you get the opportunity to do it with Concern Worldwide, then all the better! I have met some fantastic people, visited some really interesting places, learnt a lot and seen some of the harsh realities that face millions in poverty worldwide, all this has I hope made me a better person and practitioner!