Chris Kemp is a MAG Trustee who has over 30 years of safety and security experience. In July, he visited MAG's programmes in South Sudan. This is his report.
So, I was lucky enough to join the MAG South Sudan country team this July on my first MAG trustee visit. First impressions on the bumpy turbulent journey from Addis are of vast and seemingly empty bush. Arrival on the single strip runway into the eye-squinting midday heat is interrupted by a visit to an airless portacabin for a rather random and unconvincing Ebola temperature check.
We spend two days in Juba with the country team. As I am the Board focal point for safety and security and was travelling with Javier, the global security manager, we decided to run a short crisis exercise with the HQ team. Unsurprisingly, in a country, which presents a new challenge every day, the team made short work of our scenario. But that’s not to say we didn’t learn something and for me it was very reassuring to see a team working well together with a realistic view on the risks they face.
South Sudan can take it out of you, especially the roads and climate. A brief visit to the workshop to see the engineering team hard at work cannibalising and fixing to keep the fleet on the road is illuminating.
We then set off to visit the field site in Magwi where we were met by the Technical Field Manager, Wehan Steenkamp, and his highly professional team. Their work is mainly about clearing unexploded sub-munitions from the civil war. They had recently identified and cleared four devices right next to the village school and, given this proximity, there was every reason to assume there were more littered across the school playground. In the strange inverted logic of a situation where this kind of threat had become normal, we left the team still negotiating with a headmaster reluctant to close his school during term time. It is difficult not to think about how a similar situation would be handled at home. Somewhat more hysterically, I think.
Whilst only a very brief insight into a complex and highly challenging environment, my visit to South Sudan was a fantastic opportunity to see MAG working in the field. I came away feeling impressed and proud of what is being achieved, despite these challenges. It was also really rewarding to be able to see how immediately and tangibly our programmes can improve lives—as soon as the ground is clear it is immediately put to use for crops.
There are estimated to be over 24 million square metres of land is contaminated by landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war in South Sudan. Help us save lives and build safer futures by supporting our humanitarian work.