UNISDR head, Mr. Robert Glasser waits for a high-five from baby Chilal in the arms of her mother, Ms. Oumie Sissokho, Director of Operations, Gambia National Disaster Management Agency
By Denis McClean
BALACLAVA, Mauritius, 25 November 2016 - The youngest participant at this week’s Africa Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is ten-month-old Chilal. Her occasional mild interventions from the floor have brought smiles to the faces of more serious-minded participants.
Breastfed Chilal is here with her mother, Ms. Oumie Sissokho, Director of Operations with the National Disaster Management Agency of Gambia, who brings her baby with her everywhere, including field visits to flood and drought affected people in rural areas.
Mother and child left Gambia in the early hours of last Sunday and arrived in Mauritius via Casablanca and Paris the following day in good time for the opening of the 6th Session of the African Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction on Tuesday.
Ms. Sissokho feels the journey was worth it, to attend her first Regional Platform since she took on her role with the NDMA one year ago. She is fully supported by the head of the NDMA, Mr. Alhajie Sanneh, who is also here and who manages 40 staff.
The 30-year old former women’s rights activist has been on a steep learning curve since she joined the NDMA. She has operational responsibility, and also works on resource mobilisation, partnerships, programme planning and implementation.
“We focus a lot on grassroots engagement, trying to empower local communities and people with risk information and raising awareness. The risk profile of the Gambia includes drought, floods, disease outbreaks, domestic and bush fires. Currently we are responding to the needs of about 10,000 people affected by the heavy but erratic 2016 rains and wind-storms,” she said.
The hard working mother travels the length and breadth of the country talking to disaster affected people, conducting interviews and meeting with local leaders. Having her baby with her has been an advantage. “It helps to be with the baby because people open up about their experiences especially people with families,” she said.
Currently Gambia is reviewing its national strategy for disaster risk reduction to align it with the priorities for action of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global plan for reducing disaster losses adopted in March 2015 at a UN World Conference.
Sitting quietly at the back of the plenary room, listening to the debates and keeping Chilal amused, Ms. Sissiokho says: “The meeting is my first experience of attending a Regional Platform. It’s great for connection and networking and learning new ideas and being aware of best practice from other countries and to think of how I can domesticate these new ideas.”
During today’s proceedings she got a chance to introduce baby Chilal to Mr. Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction who is also a UN gender focal point.
“I am learning. I am being exposed and I am being connected,” concluded a smiling Ms. Sissiokho.