The Longest Road - Part II of III
Robin Landis was first introduced to Paul's activities while working as a consultant to the United Nation's World Food Programme. Working off a call to action from Secretary General Kofi Anan to all UN agencies to step up a concerted effort to curb the AIDS epidemic, Robin was heavily engaged in determining how best to tackle the problem as it pertained to WFP beneficiaries and staff members. It became clear to Robin that WFP’s response had to not only address HIV programmatically and in the workplace but also find a way to prevent HIV from taking its toll on the contract drivers who “were falling through the cracks”.
Using the idea from an earlier program started by the staff of WFP Ethiopia, including former WFP Head of Logistics, Amer Daoudi, which involved AIDS awareness training for local transporters, Robin set about finding an affordable and effective way to extend HIV prevention to WFP’s transporters. It was clear that WFP had an important role to play in making sure that the transport workforce stayed healthy and productive - to not do so would greatly compromise WFP’s life-saving mission of delivering food. For WFP it was an obvious, but not necessarily an easy, decision to make.
In 2002 Robin recruited a public health expert by the name of Mary O'Grady to assess the situation in east and southern Africa and draft a report for the team in Rome. Later that year Mary returned a full report titled, "Getting Started: WFP support to HIV/AIDS Training for Transport and Contract Workers". The still-relevant document covers the history of the epidemic, makes recommendations for how best to tackle the crisis, and offers helpful tips on starting an activity. During her research, Mary told Robin about Paul and recommended she come down to South Africa to visit his operation.
At first Robin was unsure what to expect from Paul's unorthodox methods but it only took one night in Ventersburg for Robin to realize that Paul was on to something. Arriving for an interview with Paul, Robin was quickly escorted to a car and her group made the 1.5 hr drive from Johannesburg to the clinic in Ventersburg with Paul and his team. Upon arrival Robin saw a waiting room full of people and a clinic buzzing with activity. It seemed alive to her and so different from many of the other clinics she had seen. As Robin puts it, “The whole set-up seemed so right and so simple. It just worked.” Inside, the rapport between the staff and drivers was incredible and Robin knew she had found her answer for how WFP could protect its transport workforce and those with whom they interact.
Armed with stacks of information gathered from Mary O'Grady's report and inspiration from Paul's projects, Robin made the case for supporting this effective, albeit unorthodox, method for working with transporters in Africa. For the rest of 2003 and into 2004 Robin worked to align practice with policy and convince the chiefs in Rome that they were on the right path. It was not long before Robin gained the support of her colleagues in Rome and the stage was set for a full WFP response to the impact of AIDS on the transport sector.
Soon, Robin was headed back to southern Africa as part of a joint WFP/TNT team to help determine how best to start a pilot activity at the busy Mwanza border crossing in Malawi. In conjunction with the WFP Malawi team, TNT staff and local health officials a rapid assessment was completed and permission granted to establish a clinic at the Mwanza site. She also worked with a core team from TNT to line up additional funding for the program to ensure that its doors would remain open for years to come. Click here for PART III of the story.