Area coordinator in Mali: “In everything I do, I try to pass on my skills

Patrick Valère Kouam is Nigerien and worked as a clinical doctor for four years before moving into project management. He then climbed the ladder to become Area Coordinator in Mali, a position of responsibility that allows him to redistribute the knowledge he has acquired.           

Patrick Valère Kouam sur le terrain pour Première Urgence Internationale

Patrick Valère Kouam in the field for Première Urgence Internationale

When I graduated as a doctor, I sought to work for a humanitarian NGO in the health field. I started with a position in Niger, then in Congo with another French NGO.

I have always been attracted to this sector because I am a very compassionate person by nature, I always put the well-being of others before my own.

My career with Première Urgence Internationale began in Chad as a Health Project Manager.

I was very technical, I understood everything about health, indicators, how to calculate them, etc… But when it came to project management, I didn’t understand much. I was lucky enough to have a Field Coordinator who was very competent in this area and I learned from her. She taught me planning, budgeting, and everything else I needed to know.
In the missions that followed I was able to put all this knowledge to good use.

Safety first

Being an area coordinator in the north of Mali means first of all thinking about the safety of the teams and the people supported. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I need to know is: “Are the teams doing well at the bases?” That’s my first concern.

I’m always on alert when they go out in the field because you have to be ready to react to different events.

We can’t do anything without security. We are required to provide adequate assistance to the communities. However, we are constantly thinking about how to readapt our strategies to be able to reach isolated populations despite the security issues.

Première Urgence Internationale is at the head of the humanitarian coordination in the north of Mali (Ansongo circle and Kidal region). We are a bit of a reference as a humanitarian actor in this region, mainly in the Ansongo circle. We go where other actors do not go.

Pulling the teams up

Another difficulty related to my position is capacity building. For example, I would not want to leave northern Mali with national staff who are still at the same level as when I arrived. That is why in everything I do, I try to pass on my skills by discussing and explaining the why and how.

Being Area Coordinator allows me to make things evolve by opening up the field of possibilities in terms of safety management or human resources in particular. The teams are much more motivated than when I arrived five months ago and when I see that, it encourages me.

Patrick Valère Kouam in the field for Première Urgence Internationale

Today three colleagues have been promoted and are doing a remarkable job, which is a real source of pride for me.
When I take a job, I don’t just look at what the teams can do, but I look at the potential of each individual. I draw on my own experience, I started from scratch and proved that I could be an asset to the NGO.

Accountability and transparency

Accountability is one of the values that fascinates me at Première Urgence Internationale.

I fully identify with it because I don’t see humanitarian actions as simple projects. I see the human being beyond the indicators, someone who suffers and who has needs.

The best way to bring help to a person is to understand what his problem and his needs are but without identifying them for him. So we talk to the communities in distress. We try to understand them and we think together about what response we can bring.

In addition, we report on our activities and their results to the village chiefs and community leaders regularly. We also hold quarterly meetings with the administrative authorities on the same principle.

Suggestion boxes have also been set up. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable telling us to our face what is wrong, they can make suggestions or complaints in this box. We then analyze those messages and give feedback to the people.

In everything we do, we always ask the question, “Is this somehow not going to bring harm to the people being supported?”

Close ties

When we have a problem in the field, we can talk freely with our expatriate Human Resources Officer. They have all been great to me. I would say that they are coaches, that we can count on them.

It’s not every day that we get to meet an NGO like this. There is a real loyalty value. At Première Urgence Internationale, when you are someone who works, you are encouraged, you are accompanied.

In the future, I plan to be a Head of Mission. It’s ambitious but I’ve worked very closely with several of them. I have learned a lot and it seems to me that it would be a good thing to try to redistribute this knowledge in my turn in a mission.

I often say that I’m Première Urgence Internationale.

I don’t see myself working anywhere else at the moment. Maybe in the future I will go and get some experience elsewhere, but until proven otherwise, I consider this NGO as my home.

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