“The first time I spoke with DSS water was in 2019. DSS water needed experts for one of their projects in the far northwest of Tanzania. In 3 refugee camps, children under the age of 5 lacked sanitation facilities. Due to COVID-19, this project was put on hold. Fortunately, it was only for a short time. In 2021, the fieldwork began to pick up. I temporarily left my full-time job at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. This made me feel happier than ever!

Adjusting to a new environment

With a predetermined goal and having carried out the necessary preparatory work, I travelled to Tanzania. I had 3 weeks to complete the work, which also made me a bit nervous. I would not have much time to make myself familiar with my new environment. The work was new to me, working in a refugee camp was new to me, and the organisation (UNHCR) was new to me. Fortunately, I quickly left that feeling of insecurity behind. I stayed true to myself and connected with my new colleagues.

Working together and determining challenges

My (local) colleagues have inspired me the most. I worked together with the camp’s hygiene promoters. A UNHCR partner organisation employs them. As a result, they are also somewhat at a distance from my colleagues at UNHCR. I had the time to listen to them and understand what their work was like. They much appreciated my attention. As a result, despite the agendas filled with daily activities, they were eager to put extra time and energy into this project.

Their extra efforts allowed me to determine the challenges. Also, I took the time to see where the people in the camp needed extra attention. UNHCR recognised my conclusions; they knew that the process was not perfect but could not pinpoint the problem before. I made suggestions about the WASH division organisation and the open defecation among children aged under 5. I think both suggestions were and are very valuable. On the one hand, I provided tools that improved the situation in the camp. On the other, I shared blind spots, which improved the effectiveness of my suggestions.

Gaining a new perspective

The work taught me a lot. I think I can say that I have some experience with refugees in the Netherlands. Also, I follow the news and discussions on the world’s migration problems. Yet, this work changed my perspective on the problem. I now know how difficult it is to receive refugees in the region. I understand the fear of instability in the host country/region. I realise how complicated returning to the country of origin is. And the ‘guest role’ the United Nations has in the country in which it operates. Through the refugees’ eyes, I have witnessed their hope of one day living in a Western country.

The more I learn about refugees, the more challenging the subject becomes. This fascinates and intrigues me. On Saturday, 20 November, I left for Burundi. I hope to better understand the perspective and situation of returning refugees. What will life be like after years on the road? How does it feel returning to a country you left behind so long ago? How do the rest of the people feel about the people returning home? Can former refugees deal with the switch from life in a camp to an independent life?”

Follow my story

My story does not end here. I intend to keep you posted through my vlogs on Instagram. You can follow me on: Pleun Welmer.s and Netherlands Enterprise Agency

See you there?

Pleun Welmers