“The main thing is to keep smiling”

From South Sudan, Ken Garang is Première Urgence Internationale’s Field Coordinator in Maiduguri, Nigeria. An example of resilience, he shares his tips on how he rose up the ranks and made a difference in the field over the last six years, and more to come.

Coordinateur terrain Nigeria à Première Urgence Internationale 

Ken Garang – Field Coordinator in Nigeria for Première Urgence Internationale

We know you have a very busy schedule as a field coordinator for Maiduguri and Pulka. Maybe you can start by introducing yourself?

Thank you so much. This is my sixth year with Première Urgence Internationale, three years as a national staff and two and a half years as an expatriate. I was recruited as a medical team leader on the South Sudan mission, supporting a major public healthcare center, supervising 100 people. That year, everything was high: high mortality rate, high admission rate, while the facility was the only one in the whole county. It challenged me a lot. We struggled to save lives. I later moved on to several other positions, becoming a Programme Manager towards the closure of the mission, which was a difficult period. It is not easy to let go a lot of staff and to let the authorities down, but we could not work in the right conditions anymore. It was the toughest experience that I ever had to go through. The lesson for me was that acceptance is the key to access. Don’t limit yourself to the activities but have a good understanding of the context. You will be able to get enough support, both from the local communities you are serving, and for external support that you can get.

How did you come this far?

My philosophy is: “put yourself in the shoes of your supervisor”. If you put yourself in the shoes of your supervisor, you could have the privilege to work with international staff, put in more efforts, be open, expose yourself to new ways of working. So, it is good that you also have to make sure that as an individual you change your mindset, be flexible and adaptable to a changing environment. Being on the frontline means making sacrifices. When the South Sudan mission closed, I applied. I went through a long process, and now I am very happy to serve on my first expatriate mission for Première Urgence Internationale in Nigeria. For me it was unique, because I started working… remotely! It was 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown so the first difficulty was working for the first time as an expatriate, but from home. It was a challenge to work with people you don’t know, about a health facility where you cannot go, with staff you cannot meet… It shows how important communication is. When I was able to go to Monguno, of course there were security challenges, which to me were bearable because the context is not very different from my own context back home. Being present meant I had a good connection with the community. I also had a great committed team. We did a lot, and we implemented many things, we took a lot of initiative. It wasn’t all pleasant. Once, there was an attack in a neighboring town, Dikwa, and there were no flights. Première Urgence Internationale had many relocated staff who were not from there originally so they had to be evacuated, while ensuring lifesaving activities at the same time. It was not easy, but luckily the situation calmed down again and we didn’t have to evacuate. I learned a lot from that challenging experience.

field coordinator at Première Urgence Internationale

“Put yourself in your supervisor’s shoes” said Ken Garang field coordinator at Première Urgence Internationale

Then you became the field coordinator for Maiduguri. What motivates you in this role?

First, I became a deputy field coordinator for programmes in Maiduguri, but because there was no Field Coordinator, I was also acting field coordinator for the Maiduguri base, and also acting health and nutrition programme manager for Monguno, as the recruitment was still ongoing. I learned a lot, thanks also to the Head of Mission, the Coordination Team, and of course at the base also, we work as a team. The key lesson is to never be alone, you can always count on your team for support. For now, I think I still have a lot to learn in this position before moving on. I am very happy for the privilege given to me to be working for Première Urgence Internationale. I have grown, personally, I acquired not only the hard and soft skills, but I was also able to build my academic career thanks to this organization. I was actually able to receive my bachelor degree last year!

Our purpose is to serve the beneficiaries, we serve the communities. What drives me is the motivation and the passion that I have for my work. One principle that I have is that nothing is impossible. I always say, if you can manage to do something, do it with perfection. But if you are not able to manage, do not worry. Because if you keep worrying, you will not be able to do anything. I feel the need to put a smile face on everyone’s face because when you smile, the other person will smile. And then of course, as humanitarians, we work in difficult environments, so do not also increase the frustration.

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