Name: Mairead Heffron
Country of Assignment: Mozambique
Area of work: Disaster Risk Reduction
Where in the world have you travelled?
Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Oman, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mozambique.
Where did you grow up?
On a farm in the green fields of the west of Ireland.
What did you study in university?
BSc in Physics, and later a MA in development studies… not the most conventional path..
What are the best and worst jobs you have had?
The best job I ever had was teaching computers as part of an adult literacy scheme – the interaction with the students was such fun, I rarely felt like it was a job. The worst job is a toss-up between a Summer spent in the packing department of a medical supplies factory, and one where I separated out bad cherries on an assembly line in a German jam factory.
Why did you apply for the UNV programme?
I wanted to be a UNV Volunteer because, having finished an MA in development studies, I wanted to get some experience in the field… and because it sounded like a challenge, and I find myself drawn towards new challenges.
Describe a day in your life as a UNV.
I get up about 6am, and try to do a little yoga in my spacious bedroom. I make my way to work by chapa (the battered minibuses that are the closest thing Maputo has to public transport), and begin work at 8. Three mornings a week I arrive early for a Portuguese lesson at 7. I work in the disaster risk reduction unit and the activities of the day vary, but it’s likely that it involves at least one meeting, which may go on for hours. There are a lot of high level discussions and decisions going on with government officials, which is difficult for me to provide input into, but I come in handy for report and email drafting, and editing. I am slowly increasing my area of responsibility, to coordinate a small grants initiative for disaster risk reduction activities of local NGOs, and keeping my eyes peeled for other opportunities. Field visits are not all that regular, but I have been on one, which made all the discussions come alive for me!
I finish work at 4.30 pm when I can to get the chapa again, before rush hour, and it get a bit crowded. Often however, meetings go on late, or I’m asked to do something at the last minute, and most of my colleagues of the office do not leave on time!
What is the best part of your UNV assignment?
Being in a very pretty city with sea views and sea breezes. Getting a real insight into the AID monster in Africa.
What is the least favourite part of your UNV assignment?
The very frequent unnecessarily long meetings (2, 3 hours for something which could take 30 mins). Being unable to contribute to things that are happening because of my low level of Portuguese. Feeling a little stranded without a car. Feeling quite distanced from the beneficiaries of the projects being implemented.
Has your UNV assignment reached/not reached your expectations?
Not yet, but give it time… I still have 11 months to go!
Would you recommend the UNV programme to other people and why?
Based on what I see so far I would recommend it, especially for anyone who wants to work with government, and has the diplomacy and patience required.