Bárbara, Head of Mission in Colombia: “I had a lot of opportunity to growth”

Bárbara was a pharmacist in Brazil when she decided to put her skills at the service of Première Urgence Internationale and to participate in a first mission as Mission Pharmacist. Six months ago, Barabara became Head of Mission in Colombia.

How did you become Head of Mission in Colombia?

I had already worked with Première Urgence Internationale in two missions before going to Colombia as Health Coordinator. But, honestly, I had to get involved in a lot of things that were not my job. It’s part of my nature, I always want to know more, to be more involved. Sometimes I have to put limites on myself…
When I arrived in Colombia, we were only four people in the mission. So at the end of the day, we had to do a certain number of things. When the Head of Mission left, I knew the mission, the context and the team well. I wanted to be more involved. I thought about it… a lot, I had doubts and then finally I said to myself that this was a good opportunity to try. And finalIy, I managed to convince the people who recruited me that it was a good idea.

What does being a Head of Mission mean to you?

Letting go of the medical field is not easy. A new coordinator will be arriving soon, so I’m going to find out what it’s like to completely let go of that aspect. But becoming a Head of Mission has allowed me to get involved in different aspects of the mission such as security, finances or logistics. I am learning many new things now so it is very exciting.
The mission in Colombia is very special. The team is great, they really want to improve the care of the people. It is a pleasure for me to be able to help them achieve their goals.

What is the context of your mission?

The mission started with the wave of Venezuelan immigration. So we work a lot with Venezuelan migrants, mainly with the Caminantes: Venezuelan migrants who come to Colombia walking. They cross the border by a very long and tiring road, some of them are walking for more than 20 days, climbing up and down mountains and facing extreme climates that regularly go from hot to cold. But we are also doing more and more for vulnerable Colombian populations living in areas affected by the armed conflict. The mission is progressing very quickly. Sometimes too fast…

What was your biggest challenge ?

I went to a position where I managed two people. When I started as head of mission I started managing 15 person from officers to coordinators. It was like “Ok, I need to breathe”. For me, it is still a challenge, and for a lot of Head of mission, to having to manage all the different personalities, all the different levels, all the gaps. Suddenly, you managing an officer and they need much more support, compared to a coordinator, and then you had all the expat with all their different backgrounds. It was the biggest challenge but much better than six month ago.

What is so far the moment your biggest pride?

The progress that we made is incredible. We did not have almost any paperwork, or any file. We were running blind. Now we are running half-blind, but in a really more structured way. We made a strategy exercise where we decided with all the team on the way to move forward. That moment, the end of the strategy where we all agreed on a strategy is my proud moment so far.But if you ask me the same question in six months, I hope we will be fully functioning and flowing.

What is Premiere Urgence Internationale specifity’s?

Working for Première Urgence Internationale as anywhere in the world has many ups and down. However, I can see for instance that comparing to other friends in the humanitarian sector; I had a lot of opportunity to growth. They placed on me responsibilities but also trust and as much support that was physically feasible at the time. That is something, I not necessarily see in NGOs. A lot of people are stuck in their jobs and in their one role that they do for a long time. At the opposite, I feel that in Première Urgence Internationale, if I want to switch into something else I could probably do that. The fact that this is a small team allows you to explore others areas. There is also opportunities for integrated project. For instance, now in Colombia we have an MHHPS program, health and protection. And, because we understood the effects of WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) on Health, we will try to integrate it in our program. There is a lot of room to growth and to have a comprehensive approach. Some other NGOs that do health are only focusing on health. This is not a model that I personally believe in. For instance in Colombia, if a patient comes to see the psychologist we always looking if he is hungry or if he has anywhere to sleep. No psychologist can do magic, because as long as there are hungry and out in the street your psychological support can only go so far. The idea that Premiere Urgence Internationale covers more sectors is for me really interesting.

Learn more about our mission Colombia.

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