So I was off to Haiti again. Nothing new there. But this time I was meeting up with ITV reporter Rageh Omaar to show him and a camera crew around CAFOD’s projects. This was as part of a documentary that’s being screened on ITV on July 2, telling the story of the 50 years of the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Being utterly camera shy, facing this challenge felt enormous.
About the author: Sarah Marsh is CAFOD’s programme manager in Haiti.
But it’s at moments like this that I realise how much my job has changed me, both professionally and personally, and allowed me to build confidence in places I never would have imagined.
The first day out with Rageh and the crew, and the weather was unseasonally hot. I’m used to it, but skipping over rough terrain with a team weighed down by sound and recording equipment, I suddenly saw people struggling with the heat. The crew were fresh off the plane and at the end of a long run of assignments that had taken them all around the world.
When real exhaustion hit, much to the embarrassment of the camera and sound guys, my CAFOD colleagues and I flew into mothering mode, clucking fussily back and forth bringing rehydration drinks to the fast-fading crew.
What I also saw in this blasting heat was the absolute dedication of our partners and the teams working in the projects. As we all struggled in the midday sun, teams worked away furiously at our permanent construction project building new houses that are earthquake and cyclone resistant.
I saw the same reaction with the children in our disaster management project that has been taking schools through evacuation drills so they’ll be ready for the next earthquake. Again, watching a wilting TV crew try to keep up with the skipping and waving of the children who seemed unaffected by the heat kept me highly amused.
Accompanying a film crew is never really on the list of things you expect to be doing in the humanitarian world and as a programme manager. Far from it actually. I have to admit I had a quiet chat with myself about the fact that this was not at all why I had chosen the career path I am on, and most certainly not the best use of my time.
However, I stand corrected. The crew had a great capacity for patience and understanding of our partners and the communities we work for and with – and I certainly couldn’t articulate our work, and its value to the UK public in the intelligent and compassionate way they have.
It’s also due to the effectiveness of agencies like the DEC that I am able to get on with my work; the value of a coordinating body allowing agencies to get to the more important elements of actually responding with and for the people who need humanitarian aid remains crucial, without the DEC we would not have as much space as we do to get to the ground as fast as we do.
Thinking back on my initial grumpiness at the news that I might supporting the making of a documentary (and yes, it was grumpiness!), I now see that it’s the coordination of different elements within our humanitarian work that makes it work so well, and that includes making sure people know what we’re doing and why via good documentaries and news stories like this one.
It’s the combination of effort that allows the contribution of the UK public to be effective and relevant, and most importantly shared.
Thanks to all and I hope you’ll tune in.