Stronger Together

A journey from China to Bangladesh
30 September 2020
Srabasti Sarker from the Logistics Sector and Sua Choi from WFP holding JTS gowns upon their arrival at the Cox’s Bazar COVID-19 Special Hub. Photo: WFP/Brook Dubois

It’s around 10 AM in Cox’s Bazar with a light drizzle outside. Following days of heavy rain, it’s indeed a respite. A red truck has just entered the COVID-19 special hub run by World Food Programme (WFP) and the Logistics Sector at the Sea Palace Hotel in Cox’s Bazar. For a regular passer-by, this may have been just another truck carrying cargo for a local humanitarian organisation. Little would they know that this truck was carrying 10,000 disposable isolation gowns that have been imported all the way from China to Bangladesh using the WFP Global Aviation Service in response to COVID-19.

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

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

If these gowns could talk, they would have a story to tell –a story of how two young women in the field overcame the obstacles and difficulties in their way and succeeded in achieving their shared goal.

WFP partnered up with the Logistics Sector 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 started working together to tackle the question of how to bring in this equipment from China all the way to Bangladesh.

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 and partial cost-recovery passenger services. It’s offered by WFP to the humanitarian community as part of the COVID-19 response to facilitate an uninterrupted movement of life-saving cargo and humanitarian workers across the globe in the absence of commercial services.

Cargo getting boarded on the plane for departure. Photo: WFP/WFP Global Services Team

Cargo getting boarded on the plane for departure. Photo: WFP/WFP Global Services Team

To make optimal use of the services on offer, Sua Choi, WFP Partnerships Officer, and Srabasti Sarker, Logistics Sector Information Management Associate, paired up to get the ball rolling. The pair collaborated with JTS and put in a request for the air transport service in the ESM platform.

While it sounds simple, the duo faced difficulties compiling all the necessary shipping documents given they had no previous experience with the system. However, with a clear vision in mind and help from the WFP Guangzhou Hub, nothing was going to stop Sua and Srabasti. A real highlight in the process for them was working closely with a team of female colleagues from JTS, who had also not worked on export processes before, and collaborating to figure it out together. Throughout the process, it was the excellent collaboration with JTS that made this endeavour a success.

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

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

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

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

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 arrive in Cox’s Bazar throughout this whole process, 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 stakeholders involved for their patience, despite the continuous adjustments, that the export of 10,000 gowns to Bangladesh using the WFP Aviation Service 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,”                  

 

“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 WFP hub in China that provided continuous advice 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 female-led team in a male-dominated field, working together across borders to bring about positive change.  

The brand-new Emergency Service Marketplace system was activated by WFP in response to the COVID-19 pandemic 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.