Two WFP logisticians in Zimbabwe reflect on career-defining moments in 2014 working on WFP’s ebola response in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Little did they know that the experiences were preparing them for future battles in their own backyard.

Meet Modesta Tuturu and Joseph Makumbe.

As part of WFP Zimbabwe’s Supply Chain team, they are no strangers to an emergency response in a pandemic, as is currently unfolding in Zimbabwe and across the world. Both were on the frontlines in 2014.

No strangers to quarantine or lockdown, Joseph and Modesta understand the ins and outs of social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

They sat down with WFP Zimbabwe’s Tatenda Macheka for a cup of chai and a chat about their experience of lockdown then and now.

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Q: Tell me about your previous experiences of working for WFP during the ebola outbreak?

Joseph: I was deployed to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in September 2014. I was responsible for monitoring stock levels and overseeing the movement of incoming and outgoing goods. When dealing with a pandemic, you always have to be ahead of the game. This is a lesson I learnt well in Sierra Leone. My role there was to make sure food and PPEs were transported seamlessly, and WFP was the UN agency taking the lead on this. I was making sure everything arrived on time, and that we were ahead of ebola.

Modesta: I was deployed to Vonjama in Lofa County (the most affected city in Liberia) in October 2014. I was responsible for the last mile of distribution; for setting up forward logistics hubs. When I arrived in Liberia there was nothing, and as a woman, I had to demonstrate that I could lead from the front. We didn’t have much time when we were there, so we needed to be as fast as we could. Speed and efficiency are key; there is no room for error when dealing with such pandemics.

Q: Were you prepared to be on the frontlines fighting ebola?

Modesta: I had to leave my family, including my two-year-old baby, at home to venture into a male-dominated field. I was emotionally torn between my family and my career, but the passion for humanitarian work kept calling me. Some people didn’t want me to go, and even tried to discourage me from going. But for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

Joseph: I realised that it was real when I arrived at Lungi International Airport. I was hit hard by culture shock when I was thrown in to work while trying to adjust to the new food and climate. I remember watching the news on ebola and being afraid to go to Sierra Leone, but, thanks to the support and training I got from WFP, I felt prepared.

Q: What sticks in your mind as lasting memories of that time?

Modesta: There was a time when I had a high temperature and I was asked to visit the clinic. I thought I was sick and everyone was afraid. It turned out to just be tonsillitis. I will never forget that incident.

Joseph: I remember passing by a health centre in Moyamba district, and what I saw was so discouraging. That disease was bad. I felt as if we were fighting a losing battle. I called home to my family as I used to do after a busy day. They were watching the news and were worried about me, but hearing their voices motivated me to keep going.

Q : How did your experience during ebola prepare you for this current emergency response to Covid-19?

Joseph: We have been down this road before. If we follow our health authorities’ instructions of washing our hands, social distancing and staying at home as much as possible, we can make Covid-19 history. I am no stranger to this, dealing with Covid-19 in Zimbabwe reminds me of being in Sierra Leone.

Modesta: My role has not changed since being in Liberia, so I can easily draw parallels from what I learnt there to help my country fight Covid-19 now. When the announcement of Covid-19 and the lockdown came, my team looked dejected, but I had to lead by example and rally my troops.

Tatenda Macheka is a communication officer with United Nations World Food Programme in Harare. For feedback you can reach out to [email protected]