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The donkey that smiles

Posted by Duoi Ampilan Oxfam humanitarian worker

18th Dec 2017

Duoi Ampilan

Oxfam emergencies expert Duoi Ampilan discusses what motivates him to stay strong in challenging conditions - and explains why he compares himself to a certain farmyard animal.

'Why did you choose this kind of work?' 'Are you not afraid?' 'Isn't it dangerous?' These are among the common questions people ask when they find out the nature of my work for Oxfam.

Yes, the kind of work I do is not easy. I have been deployed to some of the world's most dangerous areas: Yemen, South Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

During these postings, I've worked during a civil war and after a typhoon, landslide, flood and earthquake. I have experienced near-death situations, illnesses, scorpion's stings and intimidation. I was held up and robbed.

But I accept the fact that when you do humanitarian and community work, these are part of the ingredients.

I believe that - like many of my colleagues - we need to have the passion to serve.

After all, life is a service and among the best services is to serve people who are in dire need of assistance.

From war to worms

Recently, after serving communities in Yemen affected by the ongoing civil war, I decided to rest a bit from emergency responses. I'm now working on a project that reduces the risk of communities in Sierra Leone facing outbreaks of deadly diseases. It's the kind of work that means people are less vulnerable to emergencies.

This is my second time here. The first one was during the Ebola outbreak. Extreme poverty is still crippling communities, though I see rays of hopes in people's determination.

I am leading a team to implement a new technology: tiger worm toilets. The toilets use these common earthworms to digest and decompose human waste. This ecologically friendly approach reduces the burden on the families to dig more pits to use as toilets or to pay for their septic tanks to be cleaned.

Here I am preparing the demo wormery for a training session

We train local technicians to construct the system. We help women's groups to farm the worms. We train the people who use the toilets to operate and maintain them.

The technology helps prevent the spread of diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and Ebola.

And there are economic benefits too. The women's groups directly benefit because we buy worms from them, and the worms also produce a fertiliser, which people can use in their gardens and farms.

Here, a woman's group prepares the wormery to start producing worms

Helping communities grow together

Contributing to the project gives people the chance to support each other too, as Kadiatu, one of the women's groups leaders, explained to me recently.

"We will be earning good money," she said, "but the most important thing is we are contributing to our community. Imagine, we will provide earthworms to ensure that the technology will work and our community will benefit from having a safe human waste disposal."

This is Kadiatu sitting inside the wormery telling me about how the worm production will help her group and her community

I also met a 22-year old named Victoria, who we recently trained as part of the project to help build the toilets. I was deeply touched by her story. "I am happy that I will get work, which will help me and my sister," she said. "We are living alone. We already lost our parents many years ago."

I am glad that through our activities we not only address the issues of safe human waste disposal, but also help people earn a living.

This is Victoria, age 22, who is looking after her sister after they lost their parents

Why I'm known as the donkey

Thank you for everything you do. These communities are now stronger thanks your support. I couldn't do my work with you.

I remember reading in the history of Oxfam that someone once sent a live donkey to one of the Oxfam shops. It sounds funny but this shows how generous people are to help others.

It also appeals to me because for many years I have been known as a 'donkey with a smile'.

Honestly, I have never seen a smiling donkey. But I am inspired by the animal. It is the icon of hard work and dedication. As a member of the global humanitarian team, it takes not only courage and a heart of steel to stay longer. It also needs dedication and hard labour and, of course, a smile that washes away the dusts of everyday living.

I cannot imagine if people stopped giving to our activities. Because of the public's donations, we can respond quickly to disasters and emergencies; we are able to bring relief assistance to ensure that further loss of lives and livelihoods is reduced if not prevented.

On behalf of the communities we work with, I am sending my gratitude to those who donate and who have been supporting us all these years. The stories of survival and hope from the people we work with are testimony to the generosity you share with us.

Blog post written by Duoi Ampilan

Oxfam humanitarian worker

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