Peter Liddiard has always been drawn to people. It’s what led him to start working as a one-on-one care worker in the UK during his early 20s. We’re a long way from Bangui, but even through connection issues and a crackling Skype call the genuineness of his character shines through.
Throughout his university degree Peter worked with children with learning disabilities in the UK and abroad, the experience teaching him how rewarding it can be to have a positive impact on people’s lives, no matter how small or minor you think that impact may be. It was this work that ultimately led him to pursue a career in the humanitarian sector.
“I spent some months as a voluntary music teacher for kids in a refugee camp in Ramallah, Palestine. It allowed me to better understand the humanitarian sector and to meet and talk with all kinds of actors involved in emergency responses. It was these initial conversations that sparked my desire to pursue a career in this sector.”
Fast forward a few years and Peter is now based in Bangui in Central African Republic (CAR) working as an Information Management Officer with the WFP-led Logistics Cluster. We speak with Peter about how he started with the Logistics Cluster, life as an intern at WFP’s HQ in Rome, the road to CAR and his advice to other young people aspiring to work in the humanitarian sector.
How did you start working with the Logistics cluster?
My work with the Logistics Cluster started in 2018, when I applied for an Information Management (IM) internship with the Global Logistics Cluster IM team at WFP headquarters in Rome. Prior to this, my experience related to humanitarian logistics was somewhat limited, but I knew I wanted to achieve concrete and meaningful work, and this felt like the right place to a start.
When looking for opportunities, I really wanted to find something where you could get your hands dirty. I wasn’t interested in sitting behind a desk reading about humanitarian crises. I wanted to have the opportunity to work at the heart of the humanitarian response and see the tangible impact on field operations. This internship sounded practical, dynamic and interesting, it was different to others I was researching online. So, I just thought, ‘let’s give it a try’!
What was it like to be an IM intern?
When you arrive as an intern you always fear that you’ll be that person waiting for interesting projects to show up, while making useless photocopies. Well, interning at the Logistics Cluster is the complete opposite. At the cluster you’re treated as a real member of the team with significant amount of responsibilities. You’re expected to perform just as anyone else.
I ended up having much more work than I could wish for. This gave me a better understanding not only of the Logistics Cluster’s role, but more importantly of the humanitarian architecture as a whole, and the place every partner plays when it comes to saving lives.
Before the end of my internship, I was offered to be deployed in CAR as IM officer. Having wanted to work closer to the field since the beginning, this was an amazing opportunity for me. I seized it and have been working here ever since.
Tell us a little bit more about your experience in CAR?
Overall, my experience in CAR has been really positive. On a personal level, the speed at which you gain knowledge in field operations is nothing you could ever prepare for.
As an intern in HQ, there are a lot of mechanisms around you for support, but in CAR, it is the opposite. You’re part of a very small team: it’s you the IM Officer and the Logistics Cluster Coordinator. But that’s what makes it so interesting – it gives you a lot of space and opportunities to really feel the role and take initiative. The Logistics Cluster Coordinator, Katja, has been an incredible support pillar from the beginning but being the only two Logistics Cluster representatives in CAR also pushes you to teach yourself and to develop confidence in your own work.
From a professional perspective, it’s an incredibly fulfilling experience and goes far beyond the idea I had of working in the humanitarian sector. Woking with the Logistics Cluster gives you the opportunity to constantly work alongside partners across different areas of an emergency response. At first, I thought that I would only have to deal with logisticians, but in reality, you work with people representing programmes across the whole humanitarian sector.
The Logistics Cluster is at the centre of the response.
As an IM Officer, you’re dealing with a lot of different information, from different people and through different channels, and you have to ensure that such information is reinputted into the response consistently and clearly so that partners have the capacity to make fast, lifesaving decisions. You have to keep things ticking over, because if you blink, you’ll miss it!
What are the key challenges faced by responding agencies in CAR at the moment?
Access. Physical access constraints combined with security concerns makes it highly complex and difficult to reach populations in need. Accessibility challenges are also directly related to constantly changing weather conditions. During the rainy season, humanitarians face the biggest logistics gaps, with road infrastructure heavily impacted. But then you get to dry season, and water levels are too low in the Ubangi river to allow fuel supplies to arrive to the capital. You need to be flexible.
These challenges along with the different intricacies of the humanitarian context make it an extremely complex operation, but it’s also this complexity which makes the work of a humanitarian so interesting.
What advice would you give future interns?
Apply for the internship, and if you get it, take it as privilege. Do not miss any opportunity to keep learning. The Logistics Cluster is a family full of passionate, motivated and interesting people, so make the most out of it!
Give it your 100%, work hard, laugh hard, get involved as much as you can in your work and you will be rewarded both personally and professionally.