Battling traditions, cholera and COVID-19: A humanitarian worker's story

Meet Omnia a humanitarian worker helping children in Sudan’s Blue Nile State

Omnia Mahmoud Abdalla
vaccination campaign in Sudan
UNICEF Sudan
18 August 2020

Hi, I am Omnia Mahmoud Abdalla, I am Sudanese and I am 27-years-old. 

As a little girl, I dreamed of working for Unicef. Living only a few blocks from the office in Khartoum, I passed the building almost every day on my way to school. As I grew older, I became more convinced that I wanted to work for the most vulnerable children in my beloved Sudan. In 2017, my dreams finally came true and I got the chance to work with Unicef Khartoum. I was thinking that I could do my best in the field, so when the Blue Nile opened a position I did not hesitate to apply. I moved to the Blue Nile office and started to work as a United Nations Volunteer as a monitoring and evaluation officer. 

As a humanitarian worker, one of our critical mandates is to help children that suffer from malnutrition. We make sure to monitor the implementation process of our nutrition activities with the partners and make sure if they have any challenges and shortages and offer them technical support. We also make sure that we have any emergency supplies in stock. 

unicef worker in sudan
UNICEF Sudan

I remember last year a colleague from White Nile office asked for support for the flood’s emergency. So, I went to the White Nile office to help them with monitoring their supply distribution. The team has been redistributing ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) food that is supported by USAID, and I was part of the team. I remember a three-year-old child who was very traumatized and shocked as the floods caused the walls to fall on her. She was suffering from broken bones and unfortunately, she was malnourished. I reported this case to the child protection section to support the girl and her family through psychosocial support. They sent her a support team. This was the most emotional moment that made me feel like yes I am here, I am here for this, I am here to support the most vulnerable children in our country. 

When I am talking about difficulties that I face as a female humanitarian worker, it was my family who refused to let me go to the field office initially. I am the only girl in my family, and I have four brothers, my father and brothers did not like the idea of their sister and daughter working in a hardship location. 

As you know Blue Nile was a conflict-affected state where some areas have not been reached by humanitarians in years. They asked me was it safe enough for me to go to the field? What would people think of a girl living alone considering our culture in Sudan? Then my father took the 9-hour drive from Khartoum to Damazeen for the first time with me. He met all the staff at the field office, and he allowed me to stay. It was the first time for me to be far away from my home and be all alone. 

"For all Sudanese girls, please fight to the end to make your dreams come true. Also, for the families, please, please, allow your daughters to explore how strong they are and how humanitarian work will change their way of thinking."

Omnia Mahmoud Abdalla
Omnia Mahmoud Abdalla
UNICEF Sudan

At the end of 2019, after the difficult battle fighting the cholera outbreak, we were so busy in our response efforts and felt like we couldn’t take a breath, 2020 came with the COVID-19 surprise. We urgently started the emergency preparation and came up with new innovations to battle the virus. By the way, I had the coronavirus. I was depressed, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t feeling good and I was suffering from the constant annoying cough, fever, fatigue, diarrhoea, and at the same time I lost my uncle, who died from the virus. 

It was a hard time for me being away from my family and friends, without telling them about my sickness because I did not want to make them worry. But, thank God, I am very well now Alhamdullilah. 

Now my family became more supportive and prouder of me.  Also, I became an inspiration for my niece. They see it is possible to live away from your family, be independent, and to have a career and chase your dreams. For all Sudanese girls, please fight to the end to make your dreams come true. Also, for the families, please, please, allow your daughters to explore how strong they are and how humanitarian work will change their way of thinking. Finally, I want to say thanks for everyone who took the time to listen to my story. Thank you, my fellow humanitarian colleagues, keep up the good work and happy humanitarian day!