Kristina
de Armas

 

02:00 – Juba, South Sudan

Juba, South Sudan

In South Sudan, Kristina recalls the night shifts that financed her Master’s degree

Wake Up Call

When I was younger, my aunt had a not-for-profit that brought groups of children suffering from cancer to Disney World from Venezuela. Helping her was my first experience volunteering.

At the same time, I started working at an after school daycare programme. I knew I loved working with children and wanted to help people who needed it. This is where the idea to pursue Social Work began.

When I started university, moving from Miami to Tallahassee, I took Maths for Non-Majors, and realised I really liked and was good at it. So I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into my career, and Social Work couldn’t provide that opportunity.

My other aunt was an engineer and encouraged me to join that field, which was not common for women. After some research, I quickly took interest and pursued Industrial Engineering. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and although I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to, I knew engineering would be a great background for any future career.

The idea of working in humanitarian logistics came when I was living in Tanzania, serving in the Peace Corps teaching Maths. There I met people working for the World Food Programme (WFP), delivering food to remote locations. I learned about their work and figured it was the perfect combination of knowledge from my studies in engineering – specifically regarding optimizing operations – as well as the skills I had developed as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Getting my family’s approval while working in this field has always been a challenge. While I was in Tanzania, my father and sister came to visit me. My father was a bit confused about the living conditions I had chosen. I got the impression that in his mind he had worked hard to give me a comfortable life, as an immigrant to the US, and now I was living in a place possibly similar to what he had grown up in. Today, after many discussions, he understands my reasons for choosing this field of work and accepts it more.

My parents are both from Venezuela. In her late twenties, my Mum had been travelling back and forth from Caracas to Miami, visiting her sister. My Dad was working for a Venezuelan newspaper distributor in Miami. They met, fell in love and got married in a small ceremony. They decided to stay in Miami and start their lives in the land of opportunity, as they saw it. I used to go back to Venezuela quite a bit but haven’t been in ten or twelve years due to the deteriorating condition of the country. I dream of going back one day to the happy, stable country Venezuela once was, to connect to my roots. 

Growing up in Miami was different from the experience other children of immigrants might have elsewhere in the US. In Miami, Latins are the majority – all of my friends parents were from Latin America and our spoken language at home and to each other was, for the most part, Spanish. But my parents do call themselves Americans now – they’ve been in the US for the same amount of time if not more than they lived in Venezuela. Even though my Dad still doesn’t speak perfect English, really in Miami you don’t need it!

So, after The Peace Corps, I pursued my Masters in Logistics & Supply Chain Management.  In my final year I started working in a warehouse, as I couldn’t afford to finish the degree without getting a job. I worked the night shift from 7pm to 7am, almost every day for a year. After applying to various jobs in the humanitarian logistics field, I came across a warehouse manager job with IOM in Micronesia. I joined the Organisation in 2016; seventeen months after a typhoon had destroyed about 90%of the structures on two of the island states. We were storing and distributing construction materials to over 15 different islands, helping communities rebuild their houses and public infrastructures destroyed by the Typhoon. When that project ended, I joined IOM South Sudan, also, as the warehouse manager.

It is an exhausting job and the approximately 90 people I manage have to do such a physically demanding job by carrying heavy items that can be, at times, over 50kg. It is tough, especially in South Sudan’s heat. But the most rewarding part of the job is supporting the capacity building of the casual labourers on our team. I strive to get them the opportunities they deserve. They don’t get a lot of attention, as logistics is just seen as the support, but many of the casual labourers have been with IOM for years and have the capacity & potential to continue developing in their careers. My next plan is computer lessons! This is important as vulnerable people are at risk, and each of our actions -however small – can have a lasting impact. 

Since the mid-1990s, IOM has worked with the UN and other partners to provide protection & assistance to nearly 100,000 men, women and children who were victims of trafficking. We work to remove individuals from situations including sexual or labour exploitation, slavery and forced servitude, focusing on all aspects of counter-trafficking responses, from prevention & protection to prosecution.

While last-minute meetings are common, it’s not all rushing and running around. There are quiet days too.  Every task, no matter how small or mundane – whether responding to an email or answering a phone call – is working towards the larger mission of helping someone in need. It’s lending a hand, saving a life, and offering relief and security to someone who has neither. The reason I love this job, and working with IOM, is because I’m able to find meaning and purpose in my job every day. I feel that it is my duty to help and assist the most vulnerable people who need assistance.