Bidding Farewell to Our Senior Staff

Thursday 2 May 2019

As we bid farewell to three of our senior leadership staff, we would like to dedicate this monthly newsletter to recognize their contributions to improve the lives of children and families in Ethiopia over the years. In their respective interviews with the communications department, they reflect on their time here and their journeys ahead. Enjoy the read.  

“I will always look back at my time here with pride and fond memories.” Atakilt Gebreyohanes, Operations Support Director  

Atakilt Gebreyohanes

 1.  How does it feel to leave Save the Children, Ethiopia Country Office after your many years of service and what does it entail for your family ties and social life?

Though it is my personal decision to move on to a different employment within Save the Children, I have mixed feelings on ending my role in the Ethiopia Country Office programs and parting company with colleagues whom I worked with for such a  long time.  I have worked with Save the Children for over 26 years now, joining the organization in April 1993 as a young officer, initially with Save the Children UK and working within various country programs at different capacities since then. Of these 26 service years, I served Save the Children in Ethiopia for 17 years. So you can imagine the attachment that I have established with colleagues, and I want all of you know how much I have enjoyed working with you all those years. Of course, I had worked with some of the Save the Children UK  staff for a little  longer - from 1993 to 2004.

The Ethiopia Country Office has come a long way to advance our cause for children and achieved a lot, and that took the relentless efforts and the hard work of each one of you. Certainly, I will carry the things I have learned all my colleagues and I will always look back at my time with Save the Children in Ethiopia with a lot of pride and fond memories.  I am sure our paths will cross again with some of you as I hope to serve Save the Children in this region for some time in different arrangements.

Save the Children in Ethiopia is a lot for me as my life and   professional career has been shaped up within this organization.  I established a  family, and  also am blessed with  three children (two already joined university) as well as  developed my professional career–  I am one of the few  privileged staff who  received a full time scholarship from Save the Children  to pursue  my Master’s Degree in the UK. Taking this opportunity, I would like also to thank Save the Children in Uganda for  giving  me similar opportunity to pursue my second Master’s  Degree in one of the  Ugandan Universities.  So, overall I am very grateful to the organization as well as to all colleagues whom I worked with over the last so many years.

My contract with Save the Children in Ethiopia has come to an end, but I will still remain with Save the Children in the region  for some time to come.  After 26 years uninterrupted fixed term employment contract in many country programs, now I am moving into my first consultancy based regional contract – heading to the Sudan.

 2. How has your decades of work for Save the Children shaped your sense of purpose and philosophy in life?

Over the last 26 years with Save the Children, as much as I witnessed people enjoying life and successes,  I  also  saw people affected  by  the worst  and complex natural and man-made crises ;  where  human beings perished  like leaves in no time.  

I was privileged to be part of the humanitarian response team deployed to almost all the major humanitarian response sites globally ,  where I witnessed the real crisis   where so many people perished  – to give you an example, my first international assignment was in Darfur (North Sudan) in 2004,  which  was one of the worst man-made disasters that ever happened on the continent – where countrymen and women killed one another, where many children  were orphaned and mothers widowed, and  became dependent on handouts like it was never before in that country.   I had also taken part in the worst Tsunami response in Sri-Lanka; as well as  in the worst earth quick in  Java ( Indonesia)  and  Haiti where I  witnessed  children, university students ,mothers in rubbles under collapsed buildings  and  an entire community disappeared  from the scene instantly.  These were bad and disturbing experiences in my life, but I feel proud to be one of the first responders during that time.

In our regular humanitarian responses, I also witnessed so many people displaced and remained displaced people and refugees with all the related sufferings. Such experiences, of course, helped me to pause, think what life means for me, and find its deeper meaning.  For all of us, regardless of where we are, or what we have, there is always a potential danger that could change everything instantly. Therefore, my philosophy of life is  be good and supportive  to others at all times , so others will be as supportive when I face challenges in any forms – and this is what I always teach my children. 

 Atakilt Gebreyohanes with Ekin Ogutogullari, Save the Children in Ethiopia Country Director

 3.  What major difference do you see between working for Save the Children in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the world and what explains the difference if there is any?

Basically, all Save the Children country programs globally  have common  vision and mission regardless of the type of programs, portfolio or working environments, but  every  country program has its  own way of doing business.   Over the last 26 years, I worked in east Africa (Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania); in Asia (Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan , Mongolia, and China and Tibet);  also  in  Latin America (Haiti).  The programs in these countries have different working practices and priorities. The staff mindsets are also a bit different across the board – related with the culture and other country specific set ups. Of course, Ethiopia program is so complex in terms of area of intervention (sectors) as well as coverage (size) when compared with most of the other country programs. Therefore, managing Ethiopia programs has been relatively complex and demanding and the complex work puts staff under consistent pressure.   I always argue that anyone who worked in Ethiopia programs is fit and competent enough to work in any of the country programs, and make a difference.

4.  As Save the Children is celebrating its 100th year anniversary this year,  tell us your assessment of how better or worse the world is getting for children to survive and thrive.

Save the Children has been one of the leading humanitarian and development partners in the countries where it is operational. Until very recently, due to its successful work and reputations, Save the Children has been one of the top aid fund recipients across the globe. However, in recent years , new aid demand from non-traditional aid recipient countries such as western Europe and Middle Eastern countries have emerged. Therefore, most of the major traditional donors have shifted their aid policy to reach out to these countries, and that makes the competition so stiff among aid agencies.   As a result , in order to maintain its presence and reach beneficiary targets, Save the Children, has been aggressively developing a number of proposals for new projects and programs, working day and night to reach out to  wider donor communities and maximize the portfolio incomes.

Over all, these days , the demand for humanitarian and development support is way far behind  compared  to the available fund from the donor communities. This puts the humanitarian sector under pressure , and save the Children is among the organizations seriously  impacted by this situation.

5.  Finally, what message do you want to leave us with as you take another Save the Children challenge in the Sudan?

As I mentioned it above, we are in a very difficult situation to reach out to needy children in Ethiopia due to natural as well as man-made disasters which force thousands of children and mothers to end up in streets and in various camps for displaced people which has been less common in the country. The only option at hand  for Save the Children this time seems to be to step up the game and remain ever competitive and  secure substantial amount of  funds as well as implement already secured programs in more compliance with the donors’ agreed standards as well as beneficiaries’ interests.  To this end, the message I want to leave you all with is to remain hard working and to be committed to addressing the unfortunate man-made disaster as well as any cyclical drought situations ahead of us.

Thank you

 “I continue to be impressed by the kind people, the rich culture, and delicious food.” Michelle Bowman, Deputy Country Director for Program Operations 

Michelle Bowman

1.  It may surprise many in our Country Office that you are leaving Save the Children after you just joined us last year.  What prompted you to take another turn so soon?

I never thought I would leave this soon.   It was a personal decision.  Unfortunately, my partner has not been able to find a job in Ethiopia, so it was time to compromise and go somewhere where we can be in the same place.  My work has always been incredibly important to me, but this time, I needed to make a decision to prioritize my personal life.  But I’m very sad to leave the great team in Ethiopia!

2.  What was it like to lead the operations of Save the Children’s  biggest Country Office in the world?

It was an honor and a privilege to lead the Program Operations team at Save the Children in Ethiopia.   The operations team is very experienced, committed and talented.  My job was to support them to ensure they were able to do their best work, and try to introduce new tools and systems that may help them going forward.  The Program Operations team also can’t be successful alone – we have to work incredibly closely with other functions.  So my other role was to try to support that collaboration, and I hope that continues to strengthen and grow after I leave.

3.  What are  the most significant decisions and accomplishments that you are proud of from your tenure in Save the Children?

I always feel the most proud when I see the work of our teams on the ground, directly supporting children and communities.  We do great work in Ethiopia, and although I don’t have the privilege of working directly with communities, I am proud of anything I have done to support this.

I would highlight three accomplishments of the Program Operations team.  First, we focused a lot on strengthening our project management capabilities.  All project leads (budget holders) and field office managers have been trained in project management, and we have made great progress in improving our planning and forecasting.  This is incredibly important for running successful projects.  Second, I have done my best to represent the Field Offices at the SMT.  I see this as an incredibly important part of my role – we have almost 1500 staff working hard every day across the country, and it’s important that their voices are heard.  Finally, I have made an effort to strengthen our relationship with USAID and other donors.  We can only be successful if we have strong relationships with our donors, and it’s important that we invest time in this.  However, I didn’t do any of this alone – it was all in great collaboration with my team and other functions.

Michelle Bowman

4.  You have traveled around Ethiopia as much as your busy schedule allowed. Can you share your overall impression about Ethiopia and its people?

Ethiopia is an amazing country – even before I moved here, I loved this country.  Now that I’ve had the chance to travel a bit more, I continue to be impressed by the kind people, the beautiful landscapes, the rich history and culture, and the delicious food.   Right now there are a lot of opportunities (and some challenges) in this country – I’m confident that Save the Children can play a role to contribute to the continued growth in the country.

5.  Finally, what would you like to say to all staff and those you had a chance to work with closely?

Thank you!  It has been a real pleasure working with the team here.  I have been humbled by your commitment, experience, wisdom, and expertise.  I have learned a lot from all you.  Please keep up the great work – there is so much opportunity to make a difference here in the lives of children and their communities.  And keep in touch!

"I have been both encouraged and humbled by the amazing work that our staff do." Samuel Wood, Humanitarian Response Director 

Samuel Wood

 1.  As a Save the Children’s Humanitarian Director for Ethiopia Country Office, you have had to lead four categorized responses in Ethiopia, namely drought, internal displacement, refugee and flooding. How was it like to lead demanding  humanitarian responses on multiple fronts?

Great question! I have felt extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to play a leading role in responding to numerous complex humanitarian crises in Ethiopia over the past two years.  During my time here, Ethiopia has embarked upon a journey of monumental change, with a the extensive opening of the political, civil society and media space, a huge drive for greater accountability and a move to a more open democratic mode of governance. Whilst these new initiatives have been enormously positive, they have also been accompanied by a huge upsurge in unrest and conflict across the nation, with over 3.2 million people internally displaced over the past 18 months, or so.  I am convinced that we (Ethiopia) are facing the worst, largely silent (on the international stage), humanitarian crisis in the world today.

I have been both encouraged and humbled by the amazing work that our staff do that has saved so many Ethiopian lives, the dogged determination and hard work of our staff to deliver services for children, and I have also been heartbroken many times as I have witnessed the suffering of millions of people across this nation.  There is still so much more for us to do. In Ethiopia, Save the Children’s lifesaving work is needed now more than ever, so I implore all of my colleagues to keep going and give your very best!

2.  What do you find rewarding about the work you do in Ethiopia? What is challenging?

Knowing that have collectively saved the lives of so many children and their families, who have suffered such devastation at the hands of both natural and man-made disasters, is extremely rewarding in itself.

What I found even more rewarding though is spending time with our field teams and witnessing the huge difference we are making.  I felt especially proud of our staff, on one of many occasions, when visiting Gedeo in SNNP Region soon after the displacement of around 1m people last year.  This was my second trip to the area. The first time I visited I saw a sea of displaced people who literally had nothing. I was told by a local health worker that in one large site, around eight people were dying every-day.  On my second visit around one month later, I was so very proud that Save the Children were the first agency to respond in this location, not just in distributing much needed basic household items, but also in setting up Child-Friendly Spaces, providing water, nutrition and health services – transforming a situation of such devastation and darkness into one of renewed hope, and even smiles!  When we achieve such results, I believe that any level of challenge or self-sacrifice, is worth it 100 times over! 

Samuel Wood with Ekin Ogutogullari, Save the Children in Ethiopia Country Director

3.  What is your takeaway from your two years as a humanitarian lead and also as someone who worked  to ensure that Save the Children makes meaningful contribution to help children and their communities survive dire humanitarian situations?

 I think I have learned and grown a great deal over the past two years, so it is difficult for me to pick just one take-away… and as they say ‘what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger’! But if I have to pick one thing that I think it most important, I would say that I have learned a lot about the importance of forging strong relationships, respect, trust and care for one's colleagues.  We all come from different background, have our own ways of doing things, quirks and annoying habits – it’s not at all easy to work together effectively in a huge organization like Save, but when we do manage to do this, to forgive when we have been offended, and keep collaborating with a positive attitude, I believe we can really change the world around us beyond what we can even conceive.

 4.  Your work involved recurrent field trips and traveling overseas. What did that mean to your family life, and busy as you have always been, how did your wife and children cope up with the situation in the new social and cultural setting?

 I am very blessed to be married to an extremely gracious wife, who also happens to be in the humanitarian aid/ development sector, therefore is unusually understanding of the rigours and unique demands that such a role requires.  We moved to Ethiopia from Palestine in June of 2017, with our a two-year-old daughter and six month old son.  As all parents of young children know, it’s not an easy time of life with sleepless nights, dealing with sick children, potty training, etc. so adding in the adjustment to a new country, job, culture – it was really tough on us as a family at times, especially being so distant from our extended family who we are very close to.  Thankfully we made great friends here, were helped out by so many kind and generous people, and found our feet before long.  Might I even say that some days we felt like we thrived?!

5.  Your final thoughts on your colleagues, Ethiopia and its people? 

 I don’t say this lightly, having visited over 70 countries and worked in more than 20 of them throughout my career, I have seldom met people or had colleagues so warm, friendly, kind and gentle as I have had the privilege of working with in Ethiopia.  It has been such an honour to work alongside all of my Ethiopian colleagues, I have learned so much from you.  Thank you for being who you are, and for putting up with me.  I shall always remember you all most fondly.