Growing up, I always wanted to be a journalist. I admired how reporters and broadcasters would do their work. Every evening, I would sit quietly and watch the news or listen to the radio. Afterwards, I would practice my journalism skills with my siblings as the audience.
The daily news I listened to was about my life. As a refugee child in neighbouring Kenya, most of the news on television was about the war in my country and while it kept us informed, it was traumatizing.
Every time I told someone about the country of my origin, their response would be ‘’Oh, you are the people who like killing each other.” After hearing these words repeatedly, I resolved to become a different kind of a journalist — one that would change lives by telling positive stories of my people.
That is what led to my humanitarian career with UNICEF. I started as a Communication for Development Officer, later became a Communication Officer, and today I am a Communication for Development Specialist. Previously, I focused on working with big brands and celebrities, now I work with communities at the grassroots level. Though quite different, I love seeing the results of our work firsthand and impact on people’s lives, especially children and women.
Celebrating women humanitarians on World Humanitarian Day
On World Humanitarian Day, we honor humanitarian workers around the world, especially women humanitarians, like me, who endure unique challenges every day. Being a humanitarian worker often requires you to be away from your family for an extended period, placing added stress on mothers and their children.
Having grown up without my mother around because she was a humanitarian worker in another country, I never wished the same to happen to my children. Due to insecurity in my country, my children, aged 4 and 1, live in another country. It’s difficult for me to be away, and when we are together other challenges arise. The children fall sick, you have a sleepless night or a night at the hospital, the nanny cannot work because they are unwell or have an emergency … the list is endless.
In my culture, woman are expected to be the caregivers. As a career woman, it’s even more difficult to balance life because you must deliver results at work too. I have two full-time jobs: my work and my children. My work gives me hope though, that one day things will change in my country and that I will be able raise my children like any other parent.
As a communication professional, I get to share inspirational and sometimes heartbreaking stories about the children and women in South Sudan, and help the world take notice. When I see smiles on children’s faces or am thanked by the people I meet, the day-to-day challenges of my job are worth it.
Through UNICEF’s child-friendly policies that allow parents to bring their children to work if need be and work flexible hours, I am motivated to keep working. While challenges are everywhere, it is especially important that we overcome them to be able to help the most vulnerable populations. Apart from wanting to stay with my children, and work or travel to other UNICEF offices, I wouldn’t change anything about my life as a humanitarian worker.
Mercy Kolok is a Communication for Development Specialist based in South Sudan with over 12 years’ experience in Communication and Communication for Development, eight of which have been with UNICEF