Read caption Sylvia Rognvik is deployed from NORCAP to the UN OCHA office in Iraq, where she works on the Mosul response. (Photo: Triangle/Keiko Cornale)

Responding to the world's crises

Thale Solnørdal Jenssen|Published 16. Dec 2016
NORCAP has more than 200 experts in the field at all times. Although every mission is different, deployees also have many similar experiences. Meet three of our Norwegian NORCAP experts, Sylvia, Sara and Annelies.

Sylvia Rognvik: Privileged opportunity

"Its a privilege to be able to deploy on short notice and assist those who are most affected by crises and conflicts when they need it the most", she says. 

Sylvia went on her first mission with NORCAP in October 2016. She is deployed to the UN OCHA office in Iraq, where she works on the UN response to the Mosul offensive.

Previously, Sylvia has worked in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and strengthening of national security institutions, such as police and armed forces. In Iraq her job is to support UN implementing partners in accessing the Iraq Humanitarian Pooled Fund, and to monitor and report on ongoing projects. She is also responsible for communication, as well as other tasks as they emerge.

"Needs continue to change, and you have to remain flexible", she says. "When you arrive in an emergency, it can be challenging to get an overview of the situation and to prioritise several competing and urgent needs."

Global responsibility

Iraq, where Sylvia currently works, is facing one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. 3,3 million people are displaced and approximately 10 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. As the Mosul front line continues to advance, displacements are increasing, with needs reinforced by a freezing cold winter.

“Responding to humanitarian needs caused by war, conflict and natural disasters is a global responsibility. At the same time, it’s essential to address the underlying causes of war and conflict, and to strengthen countries and communities capacity to  prepare for and cope with natural disasters", Sylvia says. 

Working in an emergency leaves many strong impressions, and hearing the stories of displaced families can be particularly moving. 

“In conversation with internally displaced men, women and children, I’m struck by humans' ability to endure and overcome hardship. People seem to keep the ability to smile and stay positive, and to generously offer of the little they have, despite having lost loved ones and everything they own”, Sylvia says. 

Read caption NORCAP education expert Annelies Ollieuz has worked in emergencies all over the world. Here she is in Liberia in 2015, where she helped get schools ready and safe after the Ebola epidemic. (Photo: Eirik Christophersen/NRC)

Annelies Ollieuz: Education is key

«Displaced children need education. Because it helps them then and there, and it is essential for their futures», insists Annelies Ollieuz.

Annelies’ background is in social anthropology and social work, and her humanitarian career started six years ago.

“My first NORCAP mission was to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake”, she says.

World wide crises

Since then Annelies has been on ten missions with NORCAP, working in countries such as Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, Jordan and Nepal. Her last went to Iraq in 2016.

During all her missions,  Annelies has been deployed to UNICEF, coordinating education in crisis-affected countries. She works closely with ministries of education and often helps coordinate the entire education response in a country.

Annelies underlines the importance of giving children the chance to go to school, even if they are displaced.

“Every single parent in Norway would panic if their children suddenly were not able to go to school for several months or years. The same is true for the majority of children and parents who are displaced. It is vital that children return to school as soon as possible, because the longer it takes, chances are they will not come back", she says.

When I meet people who are displaced or refugees, I always imagine that it is my family who are in this situation. Although it is mentally very hard, it makes it easier to understand what they are going through.
Annelies Ollieuz, NORCAP education expert

Great colleagues

Annelies joined NORCAP when she moved back to Oslo in 2008, having worked for UNESCO in Vietnam. She returned home to start a PhD at the University of Oslo.

“Later I chose to remain with NORCAP instead of taking a job with the UN because I felt very well looked after in NORCAP”, she says.

Another reason to stay was her colleagues.

“I have been given the opportunity to work with fantastic national and international colleagues and have experienced situations which have made lifelong impressions on me.”

Tough situations

But being in the midst of world emergencies takes its toll on the toughest humanitarians. Annelies has experienced many chaotic and dramatic situations, and also dangerous ones, especially for the local population.

«When I meet people who are displaced or refugees, I always try to imagine that it is my family who are in this situation. Although it is very hard mentally, it makes it easier to understand what they are going through and how important it is that we do everything we can to help”, she says, adding:

«At the same time it can be very frustrating to realise how much suffering is caused by political strategies and that we as humanitarians are pieces in a political game that we have little opportunity to influence”.

Sara Rivenes LafontanSara Rivenes Lafontan: Grateful for the opportunity to help

«The first weeks are always demanding», Sara Rivenes Lafontan says.

She has been a NORCAP expert for the past two years and has worked in some of the world's biggest emergencies.

“We often arrive in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and have to understand the situation, develop networks and find good solutions to various challenges in a very short period of time”, she explains.

Sara is a nurse, with a master’s degree in international public health. When she’s not on missions with NORCAP, she works on her PhD with the Department for community medicine and global health at the University of Oslo.

We often arrive in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and have to understand the situation, develop networks and find good solutions to various challenges in a very short period of time

Access to health services

Sara went on her first mission with NORCAP in December 2014. She was deployed to UNFPA in Liberia, to respond to the Ebola epidemic. On her second mission, from February to July 2016, she was based in Jordan, where she coordinated UNFPA’s humanitarian response in the southern parts of Syria.

“UNFPA works to give people access to health services, especially within sexual and reproductive health”, she explains.

In Liberia and Jordan, Sara helped give as many people as possible the right kind of help and health assistance.

"In a humanitarian crisis, women are at an increased risk of sexual violence, while the access to health services in general decreases. This can have serious and life-threatening consequences, especially for pregnant women,” she says.

Opportunity to help 

Sara says that because of NORCAP, she has had the opportunity to help when help is most needed in a crisis.

“I have great respect for the work that the Norwegian Refugee Council does, and I am thankful that they also administer the expert deployment department, NORCAP. It is a big job and I believe the organisation handles it very well.