From crises in Kosovo and Kenya, to Jordan and Pakistan: an interview with World Food Programme aid worker Lindita Bare

Lindita Bare has been working for the World Food Programme for over 20 years, joining as an Albanian refugee support worker during the Kosovo Crisis. “This job is the best”, she tells me. “You are allowed to innovate; you are allowed to have good ideas. I would do it 100 times over”. 

Lindita has worked in Chief Resource Management within the WFP’s technology division for less than two years, but joined the organisation in 1999. “At the time a lot of refugees were coming to Albania from Kosovo. The WFP were looking for people who could speak English to help during the crisis. That is where I began”. Since then, she has enjoyed an exciting if, at times, dangerous career: “I joined by accident [in 1999]… but as time passed I realised this is the only path I should have taken”.

As things stand, the WFP has almost 20,000 employees working across 83 countries. When a crisis breaks out, the organisation will normally receive a request from the relevant government for intervention (only in exceptional circumstances will the WFP provide aid without government request). Workers from the WFP will then visit the country to assess the situation before providing support, normally in the way of food assistance.

Lindita knows first-hand what it is like to be in the midst of a crisis. “I have been in a lot of them”, she tells me. “I started in Kosovo. But since then I have been involved in three crises in Pakistan: the earthquake, the floods, and the war in the north. I was also involved in droughts in the Horn of Africa… providing regional support from Nairobi, Kenya to Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Djibouti. I then worked as a regional supporter to Syria and in Jordan at the biggest refugee camp in the Middle East”.

The length of time in which workers are involved in each emergency can vary from 2 to 5 years. “The more difficult the place [in terms of security], the less years you spend there”, she tells me. “If you are in a difficult duty station, you can spend 2-3 years and, if it is easier in terms of no security issues, you spend 4-5 years”.

Working for the WFP can be both dangerous and challenging, but Lindita is keen to point out each crisis presents an opportunity for learning. “Everywhere I see there is a school”, she says. “I have learned from my colleagues, from the people of where have I have been, from the cultures of the countries where I have been. Everywhere I have learned”. However, there is one experience for Lindita that stands out: “If I have to say where I have learned the most, it is in Pakistan”.

Lindita was working in Pakistan at a time when the state was considered the most insecure region in the world: “It was a very challenging country because I was there during the bomb blasts… our office [in Islamabad] was bombed in October of 2009. Five of our colleagues lost their lives”. Despite working in the face of danger, Lindita tells me: “I still wouldn’t change the experience I had in Pakistan with any other place”.

Aid workers in such unstable regions of the world always require security and protection: “In dangerous war zone areas we [travel] in armoured vehicles and with safety items”. Families are also not allowed to join us in the high risk areas. “We are always receiving advice from our security telling us not to participate, to avoid different roads, to stay in the house, to avoid confrontation”. However, sometimes such safety measures are not enough and incidents are unavoidable: “You never know. Our office [in Islamabad] was in a very safe and secure area and still they managed to get through and bomb it. You have to be careful. You have to listen to all the security advisors”.

This past year has presented challenges even workers within the World Food Programme were not prepared for. The Covid-19 pandemic means Lindita now works at the organisation’s headquarters in Rome. “Unfortunately I don’t think the world, or even the WFP, was prepared for this kind of pandemic”, she says. “The biggest challenge [for us] is the supply chain. [This means issues with] accessing and increasing the number of food insecure people in the world”. However, with the programme playing such a vital role in emergencies and crises, such difficult circumstances cannot halt the operation: “We can’t afford to put things on hold; doing so would mean people die”. She adds: “Things might have slowed down for a small period while we were looking for new solutions and adapting to new ways of working. As I said, neither the world nor the WFP were prepared for this, but after that we picked back up. I don’t think we ever put things on hold”.

For their efforts, the WFP were awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, an accomplishment Lindita is especially proud of. However, she is keen to add: “this is challenging because all the eyes of the world are on us now: how we perform and whether we are up to the level the title [acknowledges] – whether we can defend this title. It is quite a responsibility for us and the whole organisation is not taking it lightly. We spent some time in celebration… but now we have to work”.

Such an award proves the WFP’s work is not going unnoticed. However, there is still much work to be done. Hunger still stands as the world’s largest health crisis with around nine million people dying every year from starvation and hunger-related diseases. When it comes to global awareness, Lindita believes: “the world is a big word… I don’t know if the entire world is aware but those who should be, governments and other institutions, are”. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at its core. “Number two is to reach zero hunger by 2030, a decision undertaken by all the members of the UN”, says Lindita. “So I think yes, they are aware and the WFP is doing a good job in campaigning about it and making sure the world knows what the poorer countries are going through”.

Lindita’s career at the World Food Programme is a fascinating one and, despite the risks involved, she tells me: “I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I would not change it for the world”. As our interview comes to a close, she leaves me with one final message: “The WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation in the world and we really are proud of our work. I think receiving a Nobel Prize gave something back to all the efforts of the people and all the efforts the organisation to reach those in need. It was amazing but, as I said, we celebrated for a short time and now we really need to prove we deserve this title”.


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William Warnes

Global Editor - 2019/20

Co-Deputy Editor - 2020/21

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