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Young Motswana braves war-torn Afghanistan

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War-torn! Floods! Famine! This is the heart-wrenching story of Afghanistan. 

A melancholy from a country which for over three decades now has known no reprieve from conflict. 

News emerging from this Asian country, is seldom pleasant. 

No wonder Wikitravel.org warns, “visiting Afghanistan can be extremely dangerous as the country is  technically a war zone. The government maintains little control over large parts of the country. Terrorism is a huge problem…”

Yet this spine-chilling but compelling account of Afghanistan has lured a young Motswana woman to fly thousands of miles away from home to be part of this trouble-torn country, albeit on a humanitarian mission. 

For Gorata Fembo, it is an intrinsic trait of valour. 

Never one to shrink in the face of danger as long as her mission for humanitarian work beckons.

“Being a humanitarian worker is exciting, it’s challenging, it’s addictive and frustrating, but it’s been the love of my life for quite some time now.”

In an interview with BOPA, Fembo who is based in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, is quick to admit that the country is one of the most complex humanitarian emergencies, characterised by escalating conflict with reports indicating that 6.3 Afghanis are in dire need of humanitarian aid and protection.

As at March this year, an NGO, Première Urgence Internationale, with four decades of humanitarian presence in Afghanistan, put blame on political instability, a security threat which makes humanitarian work complicated. 

Compounding the situation, in April 2018, the Afghanistan government declared a drought and called for international assistance and this is where Fembo comes in.

After receiving blessings from her family, who was initially anxious about risks associated with working in such emergencies, Fembo would first land in Malaysia for an induction course and security briefings. 

The 31-year-old Botswana Red Cross Society (BRCS) communications officer says as a result she has settled in well. 

She feels partly indebted to a great team of international and local Red Cross staff that she works with. 

She has adapted well to both the environment and social life in Afghanistan.

Fembo who has been in Kabul for a month now, explains that her role during her three-month mission that ends in July, is a response to an emergency appeal by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC). 

On March 13, 2019, IFRC launched an emergency appeal seeking eight million Swiss Francs (just over P85 million) to support the Afghan Red Crescent Society to provide humanitarian assistance to over 650 000 people affected by flood and drought for 12 months. 

The opportunity, she says presented itself following reports of flash floods and drought in Afghanistan. 

She never thought twice about it and immediately embarked on a long journey to participate in one of the world’s most complex humanitarian emergencies.

“Working with the Red Cross over the years has prepared me for many things but nothing like the devastation I saw through the voices of the people in Afghanistan. While the country has been going through years of conflict, the worst drought is now affecting millions of people across the rural populations in the country. In March 2019 floods additionally destabilised the lives of over 300 000 people, leaving families displaced, impoverished and out of reach,” adds the Mabutsane-born Fembo.

Incidentally, upon returning home in 2011 after pursuing a four-year BA in Mass Communication at Curtin University, Malaysia, Fembo worked with various employers including Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund, Botswana Life, BIE, Business Botswana prior to joining BRCS in 2015. 

Upon joining BRCS, Fembo developed strong feelings towards humanitarian work instead of just working solely as a communications officer.

Her wish was particularly to work in complex emergencies where she could have an opportunity to utilise skills she acquired through years of training with Red Cross and experience working with local communities and volunteers. 

Living her dream, Fembo wakes each morning in Kabul to raise awareness to the immediate and long-term recovery needs of communities in Afghanistan. 

These communities are currently out of sight, in an under-estimated crisis with limited access by humanitarian agencies or media, out of reach because of conflict and out of scope because this is a large, slow- onset disaster. 

“I enjoy telling stories of hope, resilience and profiling the great work carried out by volunteers from the ground, who often put their lives on hold to offer a hand in humanity. I believe in social development, documenting stories of change, dignity and profiling beneficiaries to bring attention to the publics on the challenges faced by communities.”

Although it is her first redeployment outside the country, she has in the past worked on two national emergencies. 

She had an opportunity of representing the national society through various fora in Rwanda, South Africa and Malawi.

Her breakthrough experience working in disasters began in 2017 following the aftermath of Cyclone Dineo that devastated Mozambique, affecting several countries in southern Africa including Botswana (Central District – Gweta, Zoroga and Tshokatshaa). 

Fembo describes the response operation a small one. 

Nevertheless, she had to experience firsthand crisis, impact of floods, devastation on people, loss of livelihoods, damage to property, infrastructure and psychological scars of life after a disaster and months of living in evacuation camps.

Fast forward from Dineo to Idai, Fembo had an opportunity to feature in a two-month emergency appeal that sought support both in kind and financial towards Zimbabwe Red Cross Society. 

The project entailed advocacy promotion and engaging with media and publics to mobilise resources for the affected communities.

Yet today Fembo finds herself in an Islamic influenced community where the situation, aggravated by climate change, makes it difficult to assess the effects to anticipate the future. 

In brevity, Fembo describes protection concerns to be at the heart of the Afghanistan crisis. 

The extreme weather comes after decades of conflict, a current intensification of fighting and growing insecurity that further hampers people’s access to humanitarian aid and essential services. 

The focus is on the welfare and protection of vulnerable groups including women, toddlers and children, who are at high risk of malnutrition, older people, people with disabilities and people with illness. 

For one to land an opportunity to do charity work, Fembo says the local Red Cross doors are open to volunteers. 

“Botswana Red Cross Society is always open to recruit volunteers from professionals, youth, students and anyone willing to give back to their community. The National Society provides adequate capacity building for both staff and volunteers wishing to grow in humanitarian and community work, also providing a good place to network and take part in regional and global fora,” she explains.

In 2019, concludes Fembo, a group of youth volunteers had an opportunity to travel to Zimbabwe to attend leadership training. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Ndingililo Gaoswediwe

Location : GABORONE

Event : Interview

Date : May 21 Tue,2019

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