As a female charity leader in war-torn Africa Northumberland’s Angela Davies has faced many challenges. She tells Hannah Davies why her job for charity Goal is her enduring passion.
THE idea of spending years without running water, electricity and good food and drink would appal many young women.
But Angela Davies, 29, originally of Haydon Bridge, Northumberland, is no ordinary young woman.
She has spent the past six years of her life in Africa in war-torn areas such as the Sudan and famine-stricken districts such as Ethiopia, leading literacy initiatives and heading nutrition programmes.
“I love what I do,” she explains over the phone from her base in Africa.
“It can be upsetting and sometimes it can be dangerous. But I know I wouldn’t get the same sense of job satisfaction from anywhere else.”
Angela manages a team of about 120 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo with international charity Goal, heading dozens of community-led initiatives, from building schools to helping local people to grow their own vegetables.
Goal works in the world’s poorest countries and is holding a Newcastle recruitment event on Thursday to get engineers, health workers and other professionals involved with its work.
Angela is based in the town of Manono, in the central African country Democratic Republic of Congo. In the 1960s, it was a bustling city built around a Belgian colonial mining community.
Now deserted by its former colonists and recovering from a vicious civil war, the town is in a desperate state of disrepair.
Angela explains: “There are wonderful old crumbling buildings, tennis courts and swimming pools that hark back to former times when this country was colonised by the Belgians but was reasonably prosperous.
“It’s a very interesting place. It has changed so much. They once had an elected government here, running water and electricity. Now they are trying to claw their way back – that’s why we’re here.”
The route from Northumberland schoolgirl to African charity worker was inspired by Angela’s desire to help others.
Her dad Crispin, 58, came to the North-East as a Procter & Gamble graduate trainee in the 1970s.
He and Angela’s mum Anne, 57, a retired occupational therapist, settled in the region, more or less – Angela explains there were periods in Germany and the USA.
They had three children, Angela’s eldest sister Caroline, 35, a deputy headteacher in an inner-city London school; Julia, 33, a doctor who works between London and India; and Angela.
Angela’s parents now live in London, where Crispin is chief executive officer of publishing company Reed Elsevier. “He says he must have done something right,” Angela laughs. “We’ve all gone into jobs where we know we can make a positive difference to a place.”
Angela joined up with Goal straight out of a development masters degree. “My first degree was in geography, but I knew I was going to go into development. It was something I’d always wanted to do and trips to India meant that idea was cemented.” Despite her voluntary work in India, Angela’s only previous experience of Africa had been a family Kenyan safari.
Since joining Goal, she has been working in Africa in some of the poorest countries on Earth. Before working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angela was based in Sudan on a roving nutrition job.
“I travelled around Sudan, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia,” she says. “It’s amazing when you go to some places. I’ve flown out to tiny places where a plane is basically the only way of getting there. It’s like going back 600 years in the UK.”
You get the impression Angela is pretty unshockable, but she explains she’s had some culture shocks.
“One time I was in a remote village in Ethiopia, when I was working in nutrition. I stopped at one family’s home and asked where their children were so I could look at them.
“The mother said the children, all under five, were out playing with the goats – miles away from the house.
“You have to learn different places do things differently and you learn not to judge by your own cultural standards.”
Angela says the role of development is changing from the perceived “do-gooders” of the past.
“These days it is very much about people having practical skills they can put to use. When I graduated from university I wanted to help, but I realised I had no skills to bring – which is why I did my nutrition MA.”
Angela has since more than proved
her worth. In Ethiopia she worked on nutrition programmes at the time of a severe drought. “I went to make a nutritional assessment of what was needed. Originally we were supposed to be there for six months; a year-and-a-half later, I was still there – the need was still there.
“It was a terrible drought, worse than the food crisis in 1984 when the whole world watched around the time of Live Aid. There wasn’t the same human interest, the same media attention.”
The war in Sudan has also been devastating in its effect and Angela say she has seen parts of the country move backwards.
“In Kassala in Sudan we ran really some interesting projects. We were in the recovery phase, it was no longer an emergency, so we were looking at longer-term projects rather than basic needs.
“Now there is a huge amount of need that wasn’t there when I started because of the conflict which wasn’t an issue at the time.
“When I was in Sudan we didn’t have the same challenges Goal and other organisations have now, with internally displaced people, security issues and all the fall-out of conflict. It was frustrating going back and seeing all the changes.”
Angela has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo for two years now and leads 11 international members of Goal and more than 100 local people.
She says: “My job as programme co-ordinator is to see where the gaps are in the programmes we are running and to fill them. The idea is to bring skills to local people who need them.
“They often don’t have these skills for a number of reasons; the education system has been destroyed because of war, or famine, or because they have been displaced.
“We train people – the idea is to do ourselves out of a job – but that is also why professional trained people are so badly needed.”
The country is recovering from the civil war. Angela says: “It is a very interesting time in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the one hand, there is a very positive atmosphere; they have just had their first democratic election in over 40 years.
“It is their first time to have an elected government and a lot of things have stabilised. People are returning home after being displaced in the war. However, on the other hand, there is increased insecurity in north Kivu province. We are optimistic, but there is worry here. In DRC we used to run mainly primary healthcare programmes, but now we concentrate more on preventative health, as well as having large engineering and water and sanitation programmes.
“We work on community health and road and bridge access, a programme for women’s literacy and livelihoods, which is based on income generating activities.”
Angela says as a woman (and in a country whose recent history has seen, according to a UN report, extreme violence against women as commonplace), her position as leader of the town’s projects was initially greeted with amazement.
But she says it has not stopped her in her work and the local community has accepted her quickly.
“Once you get past that initial problem, people generally take you on what you do. And we have created a literacy programme to help the women in our community.”
Angela’s placement in Kassala saw her working on another Goal-run women’s literacy programme.
She said: “It was amazing, especially in Muslim culture where women have very few rights, to see them going out and meeting other people, sharing their ideas and learning and building on their confidence.
“And it wasn’t just Muslim women saying that – the men really appreciated the benefits to women and were very encouraging.”
Angela talks quickly and is brimming with enthusiasm and passion for her work.
She says she might one day settle down to staying in one place, but whether that will be in Africa or England, she doesn’t know.
Angela has no big plans for change, though. “I will be in this profession for the foreseeable future. I love doing this job, with all its challenges. It is great fun and a great way to see the world and the work is something I am genuinely passionate about.
“Working in the community and having that kind of impact, I can’t imagine getting such satisfaction anywhere else.”
WHAT IS GOAL ?
Goal makes sure the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable in our world and those affected by
humanitarian crises have access to the fundamental needs and rights of life: food, water, shelter, medical attention and literacy.
Goal has responded to nearly every major natural and man-made disaster in the past 30 years, working in 50 countries, rebuilding communities after natural disasters in earthquake-ravaged Kashmir and Pakistan, building health clinics in Iraq, responding to the Asian tsunami in India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands and Indonesia.
They also run emergency food and shelter programmes in Sudan’s violent Darfur region, providing emergency healthcare in Afghanistan, responding to famines, floods in Mozambique, India, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nepal, hurricanes in El Salvador and Honduras, cholera epidemics in the DRC and genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, East Timor and Kosovo.
Goal has assisted and repatriated millions of refugees in the DRC, Sudan, northern Uganda, Sierra Leone, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, sinking wells, refurbishing and building schools and houses, moving hundreds of tonnes of food in famine-prone Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Niger.
It also runs rehabilitation and long-term development programmes, women’s literacy classes in Ethiopia and Sudan and assists Aids orphans in
Malawi and Uganda. It invests in water and sanitation and other infrastructure to assist poor and isolated rural communities in India, Philippines, Kenya, slum dwellers in India, Honduras, Philippines, and Kenya, educating, feeding and clothing thousands of street children in Angola, Ethiopia, India, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya and Honduras.
Once emergencies have been resolved, Goal implements a wide range of rehabilitation programmes, including primary healthcare, repair of home and infrastructure, clinics, schools and water and sanitation.
Long-term development programmes in areas such as health, nutrition, education and capacity building of indigenous humanitarian organisations are also implemented.
It has managed to do this while keeping administration costs low.
People are wanted to travel the globe and make a difference to the world’s vulnerable with the international humanitarian charity.
Goal needs skills to continue its work in 11 countries in the developing world.
It needs a variety of people, including accountants, doctors, nurses, nutritionists, logisticians and engineers, who are willing to devote at least a year to put their skills to good use while at the same time gaining tremendous life and work experience.
Goal is holding an information evening this Thursday, October 18, in Jury’s Inn, Scotswood Road, Newcastle, from 7pm to 9pm.
To register email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.goal-uk.org