I’m Michelle and I’m a member of Oxfam’s emergency humanitarian team. You can read more about me and my job here. I am currently deployed to work with people affected by the conflict with Boko Haram in North Eastern Nigeria. I thought I’d share a typical day in my life:
5:00am – The call to prayer begins in Damboa and wakes me up; our compound is next to a mosque and it has a very talented Muezin who has a beautiful voice. I only wish he wasn’t calling so early! I listen for a while and eventually doze back off to sleep.
6:30am – My alarm goes off. For a while I tried to be very good and get straight out of bed to exercise, but after six weeks of being on deployment, my enthusiasm waned a little and instead I prefer to lie in bed for a while, listening to the leaves from the tree above my tent hit the canvas and our compound guards talking softly to each other.
7:30am – After the usual morning chores of brushing my teeth and taking a wash in our ‘open air’ bathrooms, I head to the kitchen to catch up with our cook, Amina. It might seem a bit extravagant to have a cook, but there are 17 people who live in our base and when you work 14-hour days, it can be hard to find time to cook! We all eat breakfast together, sat under the trees in our compound, with the golden rule of no ‘work talk’ until we’ve finished our first coffees! Read about my daily commute here.
8:30am – Work starts! My team (most of them live in Damboa) arrives to the base and we have a quick catch up about any developments from yesterday and our plans for the day ahead. This morning, I find out that a fire in one of the camps where we work destroyed six houses. We add a visit to the families to our list of tasks for the day.
9:00am – We travel to Aburi Gate, one of the camps for displaced people in Damboa where Oxfam is providing water, sanitation and hygiene services. Early this morning, 16 new families (roughly 100 people) have arrived at the camp driven by the ongoing conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military. People walk for days at a time through the bush, usually carrying only the bare minimum of personal belongings. When they arrive at the camp, my team takes their details to ensure that they receive blankets, mosquito nets, soap, sanitary pads and tarpaulin to make temporary shelters within one day of arriving. The distribution goes well and people are happy, but exhausted. I take time to walk around the camp, home to 3,300 people, with our engineering team leader. We discuss maintenance issues for the various water points and latrines Oxfam has installed, and brainstorm ideas for making improvements.
11:30am – I move with Lawan, our public health assistant, to a community called Kri Kasama. We repaired a broken hand-pump in the community yesterday, but since it had not been used for some time, the water is slightly cloudy as the dust and dirt in the pipes starts to work its way out. People are desperate for water though, so rather than prevent them from taking it until the water clears, we are demonstrating simple filtration and treatment techniques to make the water safe in the meantime. Lawan and I work with the Water Committee – a community group that Oxfam helped to form to manage the water point – training them on filtration and using water treatment tablets. Together we move through the community, demonstrating and distributing, and manage to visit all households within a few hours.
2:30pm – Lawan and I realise we haven’t had any lunch yet, so we call into a small shop in the centre of Damboa. The owner recognises us and gets my ‘usual’ – a Coke Zero and small packet of biscuits – before I even have chance to ask him!
3:00pm – Lawan and I head to another camp called Central Primary, home to 2,000 displaced people. Oxfam doesn’t work in this camp, so we speak to staff from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who work there regularly and who introduce us to the families that lost their homes in the fire the day before. We are able to give them the same kits as we give to our new arrivals in Aburi Gate. It doesn’t replace what they have lost, but it at least means they have the basic essentials they need to start again.
5:30pm – By now my team have gone home to get some well deserved rest, but I have a meeting with MSF. We work very closely with them in Damboa; this meeting is to discuss water supply from boreholes that supply the camps. We are approaching the height of dry season and the level of water coming from the wells is rapidly decreasing. Above all, we want to avoid any disruption in water supply to the camps. We make a joint plan to improve and deepen the boreholes, and to arrange to bring in water via trucks in the interim period. Trucking water is a logistically heavy task – a single trip can take three hours and we need to do that at least four times a day – but it’s the only option we have until we can work on the wells.
6:30pm – The sun is starting to go down, so I sneak into the house on our compound and find a quiet spot to do some yoga. Our house was destroyed by Boko Haram, so only the fire damaged walls remain. The only space I can find is behind a stack of latrine slabs – oh well!
7:30pm – Finally time to start on the notorious paperwork… Being a team leader means working quite autonomously and managing most aspects of the various projects we have, from planning, to budgeting, contributing to proposals, to analysing data gathered by the public health team, including health data and community feedback. Doing this analysis regularly means that our programmes improve and respond to the changing situation in Damboa. Then there are the dreaded emails to catch up on….
9:00pm – Paperwork done, I shift my attention to some studying. I’m currently studying for a Masters in Public Health, and although doing it alongside my work gives me the opportunity to put my learning into practice straight away, I’m not sure it was the best idea to add studying into an already hectic workload!
10:00pm – It’s time to turn off my laptop and head into my tent. By now Damboa has been dark for three hours, but I brought a small string of fairy lights with me so I can spend some time pottering around my tent before I get into bed. I read a book for a while to switch off my brain (thank you to the inventor of backlit kindles!) before heading off to sleep.
If you have any questions about my job or life here in Nigeria, comment below. I’d love to hear from you.