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Mission Possible in Uganda

I wonder if this is a typical awakening for the local UNICEF staff, Joanna Nikulin and Atsuko Watanabe and their small team, who are stationed in Karamoja, a 9 hour drive on rough roads from Kampala. Lately the drive has been prone to attack. Just a couple weeks ago, an IRC convoy was ambushed, and the driver and passengers of one of the vehicles were shot to death.

We flew here.

Rajesh Anandan is the Vice President for Corporate and Foundation Partnerships at the U.S. Fund. He recently visited Uganda with representatives from P&G to learn about UNICEF’s tetanus elimination programs there.

The crowing right outside my window wakes me up from a not-so-deep sleep. I look at my blackberry – 9pm. That’s NYC time, so it’s 4am in Kotido District in Karamoja, Uganda.

Uh. After a brief chorus of earnest crowing, the rooster seems to have gone back to sleep.


rajesh-uganda.jpg
U.S.Fund for UNICEF/2010
Rajesh Anandan in Uganda

I try to fall back asleep too, unsuccessfully. The soft chirping of birds now catches my attention. If I were back on the 29th floor at 64th and West End, this wouldn’t be a problem! But here, I’m drawn to the rhythmic sound of some insect in my room which I imagine must be related to a cricket. And there’s the occasional barking in the distance which I proudly identify as a dog, not so different from the Upper West Side after all…

I wonder if this is a typical awakening for the local UNICEF staff, Joanna Nikulin and Atsuko Watanabe and their small team, who are stationed in Karamoja, a 9 hour drive on rough roads from Kampala. Lately the drive has been prone to attack. Just a couple weeks ago, an IRC convoy was ambushed, and the driver and passengers of one of the vehicles were shot to death.

We flew here.

But Joanna and the team usually drive. When they’re here, they typically work 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week, and only take 5 days of R&R (including weekend days) every 6 weeks.

“Sometimes I think the country office forgets that we’re here”, Joanna remarks half jokingly. When she says “we”, it’s not clear if she means we-UNICEF or the we- the Karamajon. But it is clear that she’s here to stay for a while.

A Finnish medical doctor in her 30s, now in charge of UNICEF’s health and nutrition work in Karamoja, Joanna has been stationed here for just over a year. It was supposed to be a 1 year assignment, but the Chief of Health and Nutrition back in Kampala, where UNICEF Uganda’s country programs are run from, chose well.

The country office has little to worry about what’s happening in Karamoja. Joanna and her team have worked miracles in this region, home to the poorest 1 million people in all of Uganda, a country of 30 million ranked 156th out of 179 on the Human Development Index; in other words, Uganda is among the 25 least developed countries in the world, and Karamoja is the least developed and most marginalized region in Uganda.

I doze back to sleep, only to be jolted awake by the loud hum of the generator coming back to life. That’s my wake up call, it must be 5:30am! I didn’t ask for my bucket of hot water last night, so I’m in for a rather cold shower, but still, I feel excited about the day ahead. I never imagined that waking up to a cold shower at 5:30am would be “exciting”, but if Joanna and her team can stay excited and committed to waking up every day to improve the lives of Karamoja’s children, I figure I can feel excited to go see how it’s being done…

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