My One Cent: Manoj Kumar
The thing that makes CARE’s work very distinct is its special focus on gender, which cuts across all our programs in all States.
March 7, 2018
Manoj Kumar is Country Director for CARE Sudan. He’s new to CARE International but he’s worked in the humanitarian and development sector his entire career. This is Manoj’s My One Cent story:
I come from a small town in the Eastern part of India and started my career at a local NGO, working with local tribal communities in western India. I worked with a quick response and rehabilitation team in 2001 after the earthquake and in 2005, after the big tsunami on the Southern coast of India. For the last decade, I’ve been in Africa, in Sierra Leone as country director of Concern Worldwide, then in Southern Africa as country director of Voluntary Services Overseas International. Later, I moved to Plan International as country director for Sudan and later still with Plan, to Ethiopia. Now, I’m back in Sudan as country director for CARE and I live with my wife and two kids in Khartoum. When I’m not working, I’m passionate about movies. In fact, I carry movies with me on my laptop everywhere so that even if I’m in one of the remotest humanitarian context locations in the world, like Darfur, I still have something to watch.
From my perspective, Sudan is a forgotten crisis. Nearly 5.8 million people need humanitarian assistance at this point and there are multiple dimensions to this humanitarian crisis. On the one hand, almost 2.3 million people are internally displaced because of a long protracted war. On the other, there’s an influx of nearly 800,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing war in South Sudan. On top of that, we’re seeing an acute water diarrhea crisis in many parts of Sudan and the East of Sudan is having acute, alarming malnutrition rates. This is a country with a very high humanitarian need and yet I feel like Sudan has been forgotten by international donors and communities.
CARE has been in Sudan for the past 40 years and we’re working in three states where a big number of people need humanitarian assistance - South Darfur, East Darfur, and South Kordofan. We have around 150 national and six international staff and we work with local NGO partners to support people in the food and nutrition, health, water and sanitation sectors, which are always top priorities for people who need humanitarian assistance. CARE also has a small development program in Sudan that includes strengthening women’s economic empowerment, peace building and resilience.
The thing that makes CARE’s work very distinct is its special focus on gender, which cuts across all our programs in all States. We do a very detailed analysis of gender issues in all our programs. For example, when we look at water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs, we do an analysis to understand what gender norms and gender rules are in their communities. We challenge some of the gendered programs that aren’t healthful and do not empower women. If we do a water distribution, we make sure we put water at a distance where women don’t have to go far to fetch it, to lessen their risks for sexual harassment and abuse. We also challenge gender norms. For instance, culturally, only women are supposed to fetch the water. Now we’re trying to engage men and design a program where men are responsible for managing the distribution point and playing a role in their community’s safety and water programs.
Of course it takes a longer time to change gender norms than behavior roles but by designing programs around gender analysis, we address the root cause of gender inequality, not just the symptoms. We don’t want to just count disaggregated data. We want our programs to be transformative, not just gender-aware.
As country director, you have to be self-motivated and I find myself driven to work 24/7. I often get caught up in so many administrative, fundraising and management issues, despite that I make time to visit fields regularly. There’s so much to do and learn every day in countries like Sudan and other complex humanitarian contexts. Sometimes there are frustrating moments and disappointments. That’s pretty normal in humanitarian contexts, but the next day I find something new to keep me going.
I believe hope is a power so I’m pretty optimistic. Sometimes it’s really depressing when I meet program participants and hear their stories, but then, when I see how their lives have changed with very small amounts of support from our team, that’s refreshing. Visiting participants in the field has certainly strengthened my belief that nothing is static. Things change and that’s why we are here as humanitarian professionals, to create more opportunities and enable people who need emergency support to reshape, rebuild their lives.
When I say that Sudan is a forgotten crisis, I also say, “seeing is believing.” I would love for more CARE senior officials and colleagues to come to Sudan, see the reality of this crisis and help us build a constituency of supporters who will help Sudan. All they have to do is see it for themselves.