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N°36 // July 2017


From this newsletter, a "FAQ" section will be present in each edition. In this section, we take up general and frequently asked questions about our work. To that end, we ask those questions to our teams at headquarters and in the field, to provide you with a complete answer gathering the various answers collected. Do not hesitate to send us your questions for the next newsletters at the following address:

Our goal is to give you an overview of our work and expertise, through these general questions and the involvement of our teams. Before this section, you will find the interviews of our heads of mission in Ukraine and in North Korea.

Interview of Stéphane Vengut, Head of Mission in Ukraine

Interview with beneficiaries in Verkhniotoretske

Interview with beneficiaries in Verkhniotoretske, February 2017
Photo : TGH ©

Stéphane Vengut took part in the multisectoral evaluations along the line of contact to identify the humanitarian needs of the populations before the opening of our mission in Ukraine, of which he is in charge today.

After our various press releases and articles on the specificity of our actions in Ukraine (the electronic voucher), what could be added that has not yet been said about this mission?

We need to make it clear that we are in a developed country and that, unlike other contexts of intervention, we easily identify with this environment. Internet is everywhere even on the line of contact. This country had an important economy, was at the forefront of Soviet technology and provided the USSR with two presidents1 . The Cossacks, which we identify with the Russians are actually Ukrainians, just like the Arkan and Gopan dances. These populations are sad to see their country drift away, their pride is affected, and it is very painful for them.

Similarly, we do not mention enough the damage caused by the mines of the defeated armies in the fields and on the roadsides. Civilians are the main victims when they go back to work in the fields in the spring. We know there is a conflict, but we do not know much about its intensity. Fighting is ongoing on the line of contact, and clashes2 continue to cause civilian and military casualties.

In terms of security, how does it work within the mission?

We have an important security monitoring. Every month (or more if required), we have a meeting with the civil or military coordination (OCHA which is called CIMIC here). This meeting brings together local and international NGOs and military authorities. We take stock of the intensity of the situation, but also of the difficulties between the military authorities and the humanitarian actors operating on the contact line, controls at checkpoint, the training of new military recruits before they take up their posts, etc. We also have a monthly meeting with INSO (safety NGO) that collects and analyzes all security events. Finally, 48 hours before any field trip, we send an information letter to CIMIC indicating the purpose of the trip, the participants, the type of vehicle and the route taken.

In concrete terms, what is a typical day like on the mission?

First, there is an important part of coordination with the different humanitarian actors. We participate in the coordination meetings of the WASH cluster3, the food security cluster, the voucher / cash working group and in the OCHA general coordination meetings. Before a meeting, we prepare the quantitative and qualitative updates of our activities, then the humanitarian actors discuss the needs, their evolution and the adaptation of our response if necessary. Sometimes I make presentations on our activities, as we are the only ones using e-vouchers, which is a relevant system within this context, and we are getting very positive results.

We also meet with our local partner Country of Free People (CFP) to coordinate our monitoring activities. CFP is currently the main signatory of the current project and we are their "local" partner. It’s a real work of guidance and capacity building.

I also work on the administrative aspects of the projects, on our relations with the donors (UNICEF, French Embassy) and on the writing of various activity reports. Concerning the management of our mission, we make sure to be up to date, from a legal point of view, with Ukrainian authorities, for example, or with our financial forecast in order to avoid breaks in funding.

During the day we sometimes go on a field trip where we assess the qualitative impact of our actions through interviews with beneficiaries, grocery partners, social services and local authorities.

Suivi auprès des autorités locales

Monitoring with local authorities
Photo : Stéphane Vengut / TGH ©

When you meet the beneficiaries, what kind of feedback do you receive from both the grocers and the direct beneficiaries?

Feedback is positive. The local authorities are pleased to see projects carried out on their community; beneficiaries are satisfied with the purchasing choice they have; grocery stores (mainly held by women) are satisfied with the economic repercussions of this project on their business. The “Voucher for Work” system for maintenance activities in public spaces and home care for the elderly, as well as the involvement of grocery stores in helping the most disabled use the mobile phones, help create or strengthen social cohesion and resilience among the community.

Were there any difficulties in using the vouchers?

Implementation difficulties can arise. For example, when beneficiaries die after receiving their vouchers, you have to get that money back. Same for those who move away and are no longer eligible. But this remains marginal insofar as it concerns only an average of 10 families per distribution, out of 3,600 vouchers sent.

Coordination with other humanitarian actors in the same area is more complicated. In order to avoid duplication of selection and assistance, there is an important need for coordination, data sharing, recalling and continuous exchange, which takes place mainly on a bilateral basis, upstream and during activities.

Do recipients have specific claims?

What thet want above all is work and the end of the conflict. We are in a developed country, in a region in crisis where the need for cohesion, resilience and prospects is essential. The “Voucher for Work” system set up for 300 people is highly appreciated. These are pilot activities. We are currently assessing impact and needs to submit more ambitious programme proposals.

1Léonid Brejnev and Nikita Khrouchtchev
2684 clashes in the daytime between 8 am and 5 pm during the month of February. In June, 235 clashes were recorded.
3Clusters: These are groups of humanitarian organizations specialized in each of the humanitarian intervention areas (eg Water, Hygiene and sanitation). They play a coordination role between the various actors.

Interview of Gaël Conan, Head of Mission in North Korea

Gaël Conan, Head of Mission in North Korea

Gaël Conan, Head of Mission in North Korea
Photo : Eric Martin / TGH ©

Our mission in North Korea opened in 2000. Gaël Conan, Head of Mission in Pyongyang, gives us a picture of the situation.

Since the mission started, it has certainly evolved. How did it develop?

From the start we have focused on a specific sector of intervention: aquaculture and fish farming. Over the years, we have extended our areas of intervention in this sector. Besides, our activities with the elderly - which are the specificity of TGH in North Korea - set up in Pyongyang since 2004 are being developed at provincial level.

We have made progress in our relationships with our local partners and with Korean technical authorities. Over time, we have developed a close relationship with KFCA1, our local partner working with the elderly, and developed other relationships, including with experts from different sectors (Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Experts in child nutrition, etc.).

What are the prospects for development in other areas of expertise?

There is still much to do in our areas of intervention. We vary approaches while remaining in the same sectors. Within our fish farming sector, for example, projects are being developed to improve the production and post-production of the farms supplying social institutions for children with fish. A partnership project is underway with a Vietnamese university and a Belgian university to improve research and fish farming experimentation.

Have you noticed any changes in the way the beneficiaries work, how they consider and apprehend your work at their side?

Yes of course. For example, the first intervention phase of the programme for the elderly involved retirement homes for dependent elderly persons (with no family support). We have extended our field of intervention to cover the entire elderly population of the country (3.4 million people in DPRK).

Our second intervention phase, the current programme, is intended for elderly persons at home. We are trying to broaden our target to reach as many beneficiaries as possible. However, controlled access to children institutions limits the change in approach.

And in your direct relationship with beneficiaries?

From a global point of view, both with institutions and farms, everything remains very formal. Access to the beneficiaries always depends on the so called People's Committee, a sort of "social and administrative backbone of the country". Representatives of these People’s Committees are present in each province and county, and one of them accompanies us on every field trip. The managers of farm and children institutions are also under their responsibility.

Carp fishing, Onchon farm, North Korea

Carp fishing, Onchon farm, North Korea
Photo : Coralie Bouloiseau / TGH ©

How does this translate into everyday life, are there other special conditions?

There are very special conditions! As everywhere else, the local team is under TGH contract, although it consists of people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seconded to TGH. Another specificity lies in the fact that TGH is called EUPS Unit 52, that is to say a unit which implements projects on behalf of the European Union. This is the way all resident NGOs work in DPRK, and they are all called this way.

From a more general point of view, access to land and the implementation of activities require more adaptation efforts than in another country. Field visits are more limited and each expatriate is only allowed to do a field visit once every 15 days.

However, the relationship between the local team and the expatriates is really good. We are trying to maintain these good relationships between the different organizations.

And in terms of anecdotes, are there some unexpected situations specific to the mission?

All the time! In the field, for example, we often hear the sentence "we forgot the key to access the stock" or "the person responsible for a particular service is not there", etc. This is more the sign of the reluctance of Korean people to show everything, although we can see improvements from time to time. This can destabilize the expatriates when they first arrive. Conversely, and equally destabilizing, the living conditions of expatriates can seem surprisingly good. In Europe, the image of North Korea is quite negative, but when you arrive in Pyongyang you realize that the living conditions are particularly comfortable. However, the capital city is not representative of the whole country, and we must keep in mind that it is a kind of showcase, it does not reflect the full Korean reality.

A final word on this mission, special in many ways?

EUPS Unit 5 works hard on access to beneficiaries, in order to provide humanitarian equipment and assistance directly. We feel that needs remain high in the country, and that is precisely what justifies our presence in North Korea.

1Korea Federation for the Care of the Aged
2EUPS Unit 5 is the only international humanitarian organization working in social care for the elderly in DPRK.

For more information about our projects, see Programmes on TGH's website.



What qualities are needed to be a humanitarian worker?

A : First of all, it is necessary to have respect for otherness, to be flexible, elastic, adaptable and to have a very good social skills. Social skills are more important than know-how. Not to mention that we must be realistic.

B : The most important to me is open-mindedness, flexibility and professionalism in terms of precise technical knowledge or, for more general profiles, to have a good knowledge of procedures and of how to approach donors and other humanitarian actors.

C : You have to love working as a team, know how to deal with tricky situations and take on responsibility, know how to manage the stress and frustration that will always arise inappropriately, sincerely respect the habits and customs of the host country, be able to question oneself every morning and absolutely avoid adopting the posture of the universal Santa Claus.


Do you choose your destination?

A : Of course, unless you have a specific approach saying "what I am interested in is to engage in humanitarian action, and that’s it", ready to leave on the first call. But it is an almost archaic approach, and the stakes are more personal than the final objective. As for my experience, I always chose my missions, where I go, what I work on. Of course, it is possible that interests in a certain project arises after a presentation and discussion, and thus, initially there is no specific country or mission in mind. I have never chosen a mission I was not interested in, I was not curious to explore and willing to engage myself in, because I found it meaningful.

B : Yes. Experience taught me it is not pleasant to work with expatriates who do not know anything about the context of the country. Of course we cannot know every country, but from the moment we decide to leave, we have to know where we set foot. You need to have a minimum of information about the field, know what is happening there. Our goal remains to discover the world. That is what makes us humanitarians.

C : Yes, generally we respond to a job offer. The destination is therefore chosen before the recruitment and never imposed afterwards. Of course some destinations (security risks, difficult climatic conditions, geographical isolation ...) are more difficult to fill for NGOs.

In Brief…

May 2nd, 2017:
TGH organized its third Café Humanitaire at the Café de la Cloche in Lyon 2nd arrondissement. This event on the theme "Humanitarian issues: working in Iraqi Kurdistan" brought together some fifty people.

May 18th, 2017:
Our Human Resources managers took part in the NGO Forum organized by the Ecole des 3A.

May 19th, 2017:
Along with 28 other INGOs, TGH signed a call on the international community to strengthen humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic.

June 20th, 2017:
On the occasion of International Refugee Day, TGH organized workshops with the refugee populations of the Daratoo Community Centre, Iraqi Kurdistan.

TGH also co-signed a statement recalling the crisis situation of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria in order to alert the international community once more, and to make sure that this crisis will not to be forgotten.

June 20st, 2017:
TGH took part in a Human Resources Day with the students of the master on Humanitarian Action in Aix-en-Provence.