A former member of the General Services staff, Edith Homonnai was the first from the GSSC to start an international professional career with UNICEF. She has been working in the Chad Country Office as Human Resources Officer since 15 March 2018. Now more than one year into her new assignment we wanted to check in and see how she is faring in her new environment. Here’s what she had to say about this new chapter of her life.
What where your expectations when leaving for Chad? Were there any surprises you were not prepared for?
I had, of course, tried to gather as much information as possible about living and working in Chad prior to my departure and had quite a few very constructive conversations and exchanges with colleagues in Chad. To my surprise, everyone had quite a different take on questions I had about mundane things such as dress code and food; therefore, I decided to stop thinking about these and let myself have my own personal experience while embarking on this life-changing journey. My arrival to Chad was as smooth as it can get; I had the immense luck to be eased into the context of a non-family duty station with the care and support of some wonderful people and colleagues.
When I arrived at my first residence, my colleagues had decorated the place with post-it notes welcoming me to Chad, and they also left me some water and food in the fridge. These may seem like small things, but they really meant a lot and made my first days here very positive. I was welcomed to the office in the same manner by my colleagues in the HR Team — with big smiles on their faces. On my first day there was an all-staff meeting during which I had the chance to introduce myself and get to know many people.
The extreme heat was something I could say I was not entirely prepared for. It takes quite a few days to get used to it. Being exposed to the Chadian sun with 42 degrees C (108F) for more than 15 minutes takes its toll in the shape of extreme fatigue, which is quite hard to shake off. But all of us here live and let live and learn the dos and don’ts that work. For example, drinking tonic water does make you feel good here and in addition, due to its elevated quinine levels, it also appears to be a natural malaria serum.
What is the most important thing we should know about Chad?
In Chad, 2.5 million children need humanitarian assistance.
UNICEF Chad is making important progress on nutrition, health, and WASH access. We are also working on improving the quality of education and health facilities. We are shaping our programmes to respond to humanitarian and emergency situations and working with partners to tackle all these issues more effectively. There is still much to be done, as around 47 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, with very high infant and child mortality rates, and significant regional disparities.
How is your day–to–day work in the country office? What are some of the differences between working in a Country Office and a HQ environment?
A regular day at the office can be very different in the field. There are certain challenges one has to learn to surpass. We are constantly facing connectivity issues as well as frequent power cuts that make all systems very slow. Fire caused by electrical systems and the AC not coping with the extreme heat are also quite common. I am, however, very grateful for having had the opportunity to work with the colleagues in WCAR prior to my deployment. This had equipped me with an overall understanding of what the needs and expectations were of the HR staff in general. Maintaining the focus on the “H” Human is at the core of providing qualitative HR services. Empathy is one of the most essential values an HR practitioner can demonstrate while being deployed to a non-family duty station.
What are the most challenging and most satisfying parts of your work? What motivates you?
Adhering to all security measures in place is one of the challenges of living and working in a non-family duty station. There are certain liberties such as walking, which cannot be availed, especially if you are a woman. Bringing change with the sense of “history in the making” is what motivates me to pursue my work with dedication and perseverance. Chad is considered a large country office, similar in numbers to the GSSC, therefore it can become challenging to cater to all the needs.
Are you in contact with the GSSC through you work? If yes, how do you find the customer role?
I am in contact with the GSSC almost daily and I am very grateful for all the stable and reliable support I continue to receive, especially from my previous team members. I believe it is important to keep highlighting the fact that staff members working in difficult duty stations need as much support as they can get when it comes to administration, so they can maintain their focus on the implementation of the mission of the organization.
Do you have any advice to GSSC colleagues seeking international opportunities?
My advice would be to continuously seek the opportunities which are out there and not give up or be discouraged by the lack of immediate success. If one aspires to make a difference in the lives of women and children through their work at UNICEF, it should only be a matter of time for the proper opportunity to present itself.
Edith Homonnai is a Human Resources Officer at the UNICEF Country Office in Chad.