Friday 21 October 2011
ShelterBox Response Team DiaryAbove: Laura Jepson in Colombia, her latest deployment before being confirmed that she’s going to Mexico.
As thousands of families across Central America are affected by Hurricane Jova and torrential rains, Laura Jepson, ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) volunteer, submits the first in a series of diary entries about her experiences as an aid worker in the region. In this entry Laura writes about the life changing moment when she’s confirmed to be going on deployment and her preparation before takeoff.
Why am I writing a deployment diary?
'I’m just a normal 27 year old woman. I have a nine-to-five job and live with my boyfriend in Falmouth; but at a moment's notice I give it all up to deploy as a SRT volunteer.
'It means travelling half way round the world with a team you’ve only just met at the airport, working long days in difficult conditions, operating in a constantly changing, often unsafe, environment and making difficult, sometimes life-saving, decisions with limited information. You just do whatever it takes.
'I want to share my deployment experience.'
Pre-deployment: 24 hours and then you’re off…
'I’ve had availability to deploy since mid-September so I’ve been waiting for the call to go. My last deployment was to Colombia over Christmas 2010, so I was keen to get back out in the field again. Possibilities of deployments to Ethiopia, Thailand and the Philippines came and went. Then on Monday I received the email from the Operations team that I’d been waiting for - a request for me to deploy to Mexico following Hurricane Jova. I accepted and then had 24 hours to sort myself out and get myself to an airport.
'It’s an exciting time preparing for deployment. You get the call and suddenly the normalities of day to day life – going to work, cooking dinner, paying the bills – get swapped for deployment briefs, security reports and last minute flights. I’m lucky that I have very understanding friends and family.
'My first priority was to speak to our Operations Coordinator to establish the situation on the ground and the aims of our deployment. In this case, we would deploy as a two-person team to the state of Colima, Mexico to assess the need for emergency shelter following Hurricane Jova that swept through only days before.
'It was then a flurry of coordinating flights with American SRT Mike Freeman who would be joining me, booking trains, checking visas, collating the necessary documents and paperwork, printing maps, arranging accommodation, topping up my supplies of mosquito repellent, collecting our mobiles, sat phones and GPS, and getting a media brief from the Communications team.
'The majority of my pre-deployment time was spent researching the situation. Not only did I research the hurricane and its affects, but also the politics, economics, culture and history of the country. It’s vital to understand the environment you are going into, especially if you’re the first team on the ground.
'Also as the first team out it was important to establish in-country contacts that would be able to arrange accommodation, transport, drivers, translators and act as our eyes and ears until we arrived.
'While I wait to check in at Heathrow Airport, I reread my deployment brief and security reports. I admittedly have butterflies in my stomach, within the next 24 hours I’ll be in Colima and that’s when the hard work really begins.'
Laura will be writing more diary entries following her arrival in Mexico and starts to assess the greatest areas of need for emergency aid.