It’s 10 AM in Cox’s Bazar and there’s a light drizzle, a welcome respite from the previous days of heavy rain. A truck has just entered the dedicated COVID-19 hub run by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Logistics Sector. To any passer-by it looks like just another vehicle, but to those whose hard work and dedication went into bringing this essential cargo into Bangladesh it is a moment of celebration.

The truck carrying the disposable gowns from JTS’s warehouse in Shenyang to the Guangzhou hub. Photo: JTS/Choe Sun-hee

This shipment of 10,000 disposable isolation gowns is destined for health and humanitarian workers on the frontlines of the pandemic response. They were imported all the way from China, and they tell the story of the two young women in the field who overcame every difficulty they encountered to get them here.

After Join Together Society (JTS), a South Korean Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), donated 10,000 protective gowns manufactured in China for the COVID-19 response in Cox’s Bazar, WFP and the Logistics Sector partnered up to tackle the next issue – that of transport.

And the answer?  The Emergency Service Marketplace (ESM).

The ESM is a digital platform that provides humanitarian organisations with access to free-to-user cargo transport provided by WFP as part of the COVID-19 response to ensure the uninterrupted movement of life-saving cargo across the globe.

Cargo being boarded on the aircraft for departure. Photo: WFP/WFP Global Services Team

To facilitate the arrival of this critical cargo , Sua Choi, WFP Partnerships Officer, and Srabasti Sarker, Logistics Sector Information Management Associate, paired up to get the ball rolling. In coordination with JTS, they loged a request for air transport via the Emergency Service Marketplace. While neither Sua and Srabasti or the team of colleagues from JTS had any experience on export processes, they worked together with assistance from the WFP Humanitarian Response Hub in Guangzhou, China, and learned as they went along. Throughout the process, it was their excellent collaboration with the all-female team at JTS that made this endeavour a success. 

Unloading of the gowns at the Cox’s Bazar COVID-19 Special Hub. Photo: WFP/Brook DuBois

Challenges and their collaborative solutions

One of the main hurdles Srabasti and Sua faced was the language barrier. On the one hand, JTS was a Korean organisation; on the other hand, the supplier as well as the regional WFP hub for the Global Aviation Service were based in China. This meant that most of the documents throughout the export process were in Chinese. Fortunately, two JTS counterparts were proficient in the language: Ms. Choe Sun-hee who communicated with the Chinese counterparts of WFP China hub throughout the export/in-country transport process, and Director Ms. Jung Young-mi who led the collaboration with WFP from JTS’ end. With both on board, the export process and communication with the forwarding agent supporting the WFP hub in China moved quicker.  

“We are happy that the gowns have reached Cox’s Bazar safely. We trust this successful delivery of 10,000 gowns using the WFP Aviation Service is the outcome of sincere effort on part of all stakeholders whom we are grateful to,” said Ms. Choe Sun-hee and Director Ms. Jung young-mi.

A health care provider collecting a sample from a child for COVID-19 testing in a Primary Health Care Centre in Camp 4. Photo: Logistics Sector

Use of a JTS gown by one of the female doorkeepers of the Cox’s Bazar COVID-19 Special Hub. Photo: WFP/Shakil Hossain

A health care provider collecting a sample from a child for COVID-19 testing in a Primary Health Care Centre in Camp 4. Photo: Logistics Sector

“Although I trusted that the JTS gowns would eventually reach Cox’s Bazar, I could not believe that they had actually arrived until I saw the cargo unloaded at our hub,” said Sua Choi. “It’s all thanks to the participants involved for their patience, despite the continuous adjustments, that the export of 10,000 gowns to Bangladesh using the WFP free-to-user services could be made a reality. Also, this shipment was my very first experience into the world of logistics which amazed me. I really enjoyed learning more about the Logistics Sector and realising why WFP is leading this field and recognised for its expertise.”

 “As a young professional, I have found this experience particularly empowering as it has served as an opportunity for me to take agency while working alongside other women to pave our own path getting all the help we could, all for a great cause,”  added Srabasti Sarker.          

 

“Aside from initiating countless conversations, I needed to know when exactly to respond, what questions to ask, muster the courage to ask questions in ESM webinars amidst experienced professionals, and call up logistics professionals in all corners of the globe with no time for a second thought in order to propel the process forward.”

Thanks to the continuous advice provided by the WFP Guangzhou Hub throughout the process, it took nine days for the cargo to arrive in Cox’s Bazar from the day it was booked into the hub in China. Needless to say, this is quite an achievement under the current constraints facing the global PPE supply and logistics markets. Meanwhile, WFP and the Health Sector had identified the best use of the gowns to support the Rohingya camp Isolation and Treatment Centres’ activities.

“The experience has been an excellent example of how inter-agency collaboration can work, with JTS, the Government of Bangladesh, the WFP global and Bangladesh country offices, the Logistics Sector and the Health Sector coming together to ensure an efficient response,” said Cameron Kiss, Logistics Sector Coordinator.

In addition to inter-agency collaboration, this experience is also a wonderful success story of a team of women in a male-dominated field, working together across borders to bring about positive change.  

The brand-new WFP Emergency Service Marketplace platform was designed with the vision of an uninterrupted supply chain of life-saving relief items. Coincidently, it also managed to empower a group of women to rise to the challenge and realise that they are stronger together.

By Srabasti Sarker, Logistics Sector Information Management Associate in Bangladesh. To learn more about the Logistics Sector operation in Bangladesh, visit our dedicated page here.