We met Matthew in HQ. He was in town for various appointments last week he had scheduled around the ceremony where he was honoured with the 2009 Tun Myat Award. We wanted to run a story in our monthly WFP Logistics Bulletin on this, to hear from him how he felt about receiving the award and what it meant to him. We planned on stealing no more than 1/2 hour or so of his time to write an article, but after the first 15 minutes, we were hooked. Hooked because the work this man does is nothing less than amazing. Matt is a young guy - maybe mid thirties - clean cut - khakis and a button down shirt. Might resemble a post collegiate American guy but he is in fact British, from Brighton. He is currently working in Somalia and has been for coming on 4 years now. His work there is the reason he was presented the award.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. So dangerous, that WFP was forced to suspend operations in the south part of the country in 2010. Work does continue in the north, but the danger also continues. Moving food to where it is needed takes more than just trucks and planes and helicopters and ships. It takes quick thinking, smart thinking - otherwise lives are lost. It is that simple.
Matt, as the Deputy Head of Logistics, managed to negotiate agreements with governments and clans alike to be able to 'guarantee' security for WFP to move food to certain areas in the country. In a description of his work, they mentioned how he and a colleague were the first UN international mission to the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp in the Afgooye corridor. It is the largest one in the country. What struck us, as would strike anyone, is the fact that previous international visitors to the camp were kidnapped and another group were shot. When we read this fact, we wanted to ask him what was going through his head before he left for this mission. We didn't have to. It was evident in our conversation that he was just doing what needed to be done. Matt has worked in some of WFPs most challenging operations - Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan. Admittedly a bit of a “disaster junkie”, but then you would have to be, wouldn't you.
We had all kinds of questions for Matt and he had all kinds of answers - most of them off the record. We were mesmerised by his stories, but more so by the way he told them. It was clear from the start that this is the guy you need to be doing this work. Cool head, clear thinker. This was evident when he talked about the IDP camp. The most important part of the mission was the 3 weeks planning it took to get there. No detail was left untouched. Indeed, Matt is the first to say that he accepted the award on behalf of the whole team because surely in such a place, there is no one person that does it all. You simply can't. In his own words:
“I’m extremely grateful and very honoured to receive this award Somalia is an extremely challenging, draining and dangerous operation and while we international staff are reassigned to calmer locations every few years, our Somali staff remain working under immense pressure year after year. Anything that the Somalia office has achieved is ultimately due to the efforts of our national staff and we as an organization owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I’d like to accept this award on behalf of the whole Somalia office, every member of which from the store keepers right up to the country director has put in a superhuman effort over prolonged periods and kept the operation going against seemingly impossible odds.”
Many thanks to Matt for putting up with us and our questions!!