By Jonas Knauerhase
I’ve been working in Sierra Leone as a professional peace worker for Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) since August 2019. I support YMCA Sierra Leone in Freetown and other local organisations in the Mano River Union as a disaster risk and security advisor. Sierra Leone - or, as the inhabitants say, Mama Salone - "gleams with life, brilliance and pain". This is how the Brandt travel guide sums it up. Alongside its colourful culture, impressive biodiversity, and endless beaches, Sierra Leone faces huge challenges. Colonisation by the British, the slave trade, a ten-year civil war, and the Ebola epidemic are sad highlights of this country's history. Sierra Leone is ranked 182nd out of 189 in the Human Development Index (HDI). The country is frequently hit by disasters. Only in March of this year, more than 1,500 dwellings were destroyed by a major fire in a densely populated slum area of Freetown.
My job here combines two areas of activity. At YMCA Sierra Leone I am the director of the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) unit. And I advise 16 other partner organisations of Brot für die Welt in developing their NGO safety and security management systems. The project goals and the tasks of the DRR are wide-ranging - from youth work to Participatory Assessment of Climate and Disaster Risks (PACDR) in slums and the development of DRR and safeguarding policies. I have also been able to initiate a project on multilingual crisis communication, which is supported both financially and in terms of content by UNDP, the Office of National Security (ONS), and University College London. I work together with a volunteer in our partner organisation, the YMCA, to achieve the project goals. When my contract ends, he should be able to run the DRR unit himself.
After completing my basic studies in humanitarian aid, I obtained a diploma in human rights and displacement at UPEACE (University for Peace). I then went straight into the field of development and security policy and studied for a master's degree in "Security, Conflict and International Development" at the University of Leicester. Along with my studies, it is above all the training as a mediator and as a peace and conflict adviser that stands me in good stead for my work here. I find that my internships in Israel, Lebanon, and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq (among other places) are also helpful, as I learn to cope with life here in Sierra Leone.
“Lyf nr easy na Salone” in the Krio language means "Life in Sierra Leone isn’t easy". I was therefore very pleased to undergo four months of intensive project-specific preparation. The programme included Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) in Oxford, Krio language courses and a regional studies course in Bonn, a course on Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment at the University of Twente, 4WD off-road training, and a course in knowledge management in oral cultures. Despite this intensive preparation, I face considerable challenges here - from totally inadequate health care, patriarchal structures and ways of thinking, and unreliable power supplies to the significant repercussions of a poor education system. This makes the skills and experience that I am gaining here all the more valuable. They will stand out in my cv and will qualify me well for taking up jobs in other organisations.
I am still happy with my decision to work as a professional peace worker in West Africa for two years. Right now, I’m waiting for responses to two applications: one for a post at the Federal Foreign Office; and the other for an opportunity to work as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO) at the United Nations. I am also excited by the prospect of studying for a PhD on the “Triple Nexus”, which is about a more integrated approach to humanitarian aid, development cooperation, and peace building.
Jonas Knauerhase, mediator and peace and conflict advisor. Since 2019: Sierra Leone, DÜ/Brot für die Welt.