Being humanitarian worker with WFP in Cuba: a strong sense of togetherness

Inés María Medina has served with the World Food Programme in Cuba for more than 12 years. Photo: @WFP Marianela González

Every day, conflicts or disasters caused by natural events affect thousands of people around the world, and impact humanitarian workers risking their life to serve them. But being an aid worker has a different meaning in Cuba. Together with inhabitants, aid teams are #NotATarget of violence here: however -as the World Food Programme staff on the ground explains- the same humanitarian principles that apply globally are still at the core of their daily actions.

Meet Ines María Medina, who has served for over 12 years in Santiago de Cuba: “a raising smile of a child being fed and nourished in the driest places of the country is the greatest reward I could ever receive”

Hearing Inés talking about herself could be a tough undertaking. Even shooting a single photograph portraying her in the foreground (and not behind the scenes) can be challenging. Inés lives her humanitarian work as those thousands colleagues wearing a WFP t-shirt around the world, and it is definitely not about people who deliver: it’s all about people they serve — and serve with.

Born and based in Santiago de Cuba -“capital of the Caribbean”-, Inés has been working for more than 12 years with the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Working in the second port of the island and in a territory extremely vulnerable to natural events, means being always the first one in the field after an emergency; always speaking the same language of those who have lost everything they have; always ready to support them starting over again, stronger.

“To be a humanitarian worker in Cuba means committing to ensure that WFP -together with the Government and communities- mitigates the effects caused by droughts or hurricanes, which leave many people in food insecurity. It requires efficiency, but especially, a strong sense of togetherness”, she said.

Inés was already wearing a WFP vest when hurricane Sandy impacted Santiago de Cuba: the worst they had ever seen in a century. And then came along the drought of the century, in addition to hurricane Matthew, which swept through Guantanamo province without reducing the negative impacts of drought.

For a woman in a Cuban eastern city -a region with a long tradition of “machismo”-, being humanitarian worker also means for Inés being empowered, and at the same time empower others. “Receiving the food containers at the port, monitoring their storage and distribution, and ensuring that the food is dispatched swiftly and timely to the right people… It is a male-dominant chain that does not stop, like a clock. We need to be aware that we are just a piece in the whole mechanism, just an impulse, or it won’t work”.

Since 2016, even before hurricane Matthew turned the table up, she has been leading an ECHO-funded project to strengthen capacities for drought resilience in Santiago, which water supply is the most affected in the country. Accompanied by a local team of women meteorologists and engineers, Inés defies the mountains of Santiago de Cuba to bring together local farmers and scientists on drought issues. From the so-called Cuban dry corridor to La Pimienta -one of the most remote places supported by WFP in the country-, she drives WFP’s operation to tackle the extreme water deficit in the island.

This is a long lasting and silent emergency. While facing this critical challenge, WFP staff on the ground contribute to bringing together the Government, communities and humanitarian workers and connecting them with the global agenda.

Inés is well aware about what humanitarian workers defend with the initiative #NotATarget on World Humanitarian Day: whoever is serving the populations affected by disasters or conflicts is not –and cannot be- a victim. And from Cuba, stressing those same humanitarian principles despite being far away from the bull’s-eye, Inés added her voice to this global conversation, so it can be louder.

Marianela González, World Food Programme Insight

August 17, 2017

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