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Donkey Carts And Canoes: My First Week With WFP (Staff Interview)

Three days after joining WFP’s operation in Burkina Faso, Thomas D’Aquin was tasked with finding a way to reach areas cut off by flooding with badly-needed food assistance. He and his colleagues found a novel solution using a traditional means of transport. It was just one of the challenges he’s encountered while working with WFP.

1) What is your job?
I currently work as the interim head of the Dori sub-office. I lead operations in distributing food to refugees and providing school meals for primary school children. My job is to make sure that food gets delivered, that our work with partner organisations runs smoothly and that our beneficiaries get the assistance they need.

World Humanitarian Day

WFP staff talking to a group of men and women in front of a bombarded building in Syria

Every day, humanitarian workers around the world make sacrifices and face danger in order to reach people who need their help. On August 19, we recognize their commitment and dedication.

2) What is the hardest thing about your job?
The hardest part of my job is the pressure. There are always deadlines and it’s a race against the clock. Targeting the people who need WFP’s assistance is always a struggle. In order to do it well, it takes time and yet, you do not want to delay starting the project because people are in need of urgent help. And of course, it’s difficult to live apart from my family.

3) What did you do before joining WFP?
Before working at WFP, I worked for a small development association in the East region of Burkina. We were an implementing partner of Oxfam and our work focused mainly on creating wells and water reservoirs to boost agricultural production.

4) How did you find your way into WFP?
I joined WFP in 2007 as a food aid monitor, working out of the main office in Ouagadougou. In 2012, with the Sahel food crisis and the arrival of the Malian refugees, a post was created in the Dori sub-office in the Sahel Region as programme officer. I applied and got the job.

5) What’s your most moving experience with WFP?
My most moving experience took place just three days after I started. My supervisor assigned me to go on an exploratory mission to the Yagha region, a part of the country that gets cut off by floods during the rainy season. People were in need of food assistance and we needed to find a way to get it to them. As soon as we arrived, we started working with local communities to figure out how to transport the food. We hired local people to transport the food across the mud in donkey carts and over the water in canoes. All in all the process took about 18 days and around 1,500 tons of food were transported. When the food reached the stranded communities, they couldn’t believe it. This was the first time such a thing had happened. What a moment!

6) What’s your most frightening experience?
The most terrifying experience I had was when we were driving to Djibo, a town about 200 km away from my duty station of Djibo. Our car skidded off the poorly paved road and we flipped two times. Luckily no-one was badly injured but it was extremely frightening.

7) What is a humanitarian?
A humanitarian is someone who works for those in need, providing them with assistance.

8) Are you a humanitarian?
Yes, I am one because I left my family to provide assistance to the local communities in need and the Malian refugees in the Sahel Region.