A volunteer is an employee ready to go to the four corners of the world to put his or her experience and skills at the service of others.
Frédéric Gogien: "I have a bit of a paradoxical feeling of having received more than I gave."
As a sanitation expert at Veolia's Centre-East region operations division, Frédéric Gogien spent three weeks in Mozambique in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai. He was part of the second wave of volunteers who handed over to the Mozambicans who are now operating the Veolia Foundation's Aquaforce mobile water treatment units. Here is Frédéric's account.
You and your Veoliaforce partner were part of the second wave of volunteers who took over from another pairing of Veoliaforce volunteers. What was your role?
Frédéric Gogien: The Aquaforces were set up before we arrived. When Marie Gaveriaux and I took over a few weeks after the disaster, our aim was to secure and optimise water production, and then hand over control to local teams.
How did the training phase go?
FG: We worked with four Mozambicans who quickly became able to operate the machines independently. The challenge was to keep adapting to the context.
You were given the nickname Inspector Gadget...
FG: That's right! The young people who we were training called me Inspector Gadget. My mantra is that you have to make do with what is in the boxes so that things work as well as possible. This sometimes means being inventive. Beyond the anecdotal, you need to demonstrate real flexibility during this type of assignment. Solidarités International, our partner NGO, had no idea how long it would be able to stay. So we needed to identify a framework and an organizational method that would secure the operation of the Aquaforces and therefore water access for hundreds of people. Who would buy the consumables? Who would pay the operatives working on the units? Who would plan the involvement of such and such? If we had returned home and water production stopped, I would have viewed it as a failure. In the end, everything went miraculously well. Two NGOs followed on from Solidarités International. We left properly in the right circumstances, undertaking the handovers in the right way. I kept in contact with the teams on the ground until recently and everything is still running smoothly.
How do you go back to your daily life in France?
FG: There is the gratifying feeling of working for a group that enables me to get involved in this sort of work during work time, and then the need to readapt to a very different job to the one that we had been doing for three weeks. My post at Veolia Centre-East involves producing a lot of documents - analysis, reports and so on. In Beira, on the other hand, I was producing water!
What's your view of the assignment?
FG: I gained a lot of technical knowledge and met some really lovely people. Finally, I have the incongruous feeling of having received more than I gave.
Interview by Veolia Foundation.
Marlène Cothenet: "I was impressed by the resilience of the local population."
Marlène Cothenet has been working for Veolia since 2012 and is a water research and projects engineer. She heads the Greater Lyon Water research and projects unit and has been working there for four years, having firstly gained experience in the Centre-East regional office.
You volunteered to go to Beira in Mozambique to help the population hit by Cyclone Idai. What did this voluntary work with the Veolia Foundation actually involve?
Marlène Cothenet: The aim was to provide the most destitute people with drinking water both to meet the primary needs of those who had lost everything in the disaster and also to try to curb the expected cholera epidemic in a region where the disease is already endemic.
So you arrived on the ground as a Veoliaforce volunteer to work with a partner NGO - Solidarités International. What were your first priorities?
MC: Our aim was to identify the locations where the two Aquaforce 2,000 units should be deployed. These are the mobile water purification units designed by the Veolia Foundation. It proved even more difficult as the needs were difficult to assess, as the population was still on the move (the first households were returning to partially destroyed houses in urban areas, and people were arriving in the camps having left the ravaged rural areas...). I teamed up with Romain Thémereau, another Veoliaforce volunteer, and we spent several days criss-crossing the region before arriving at the village of Tica-Muda, 60km from Beira, where a camp for displaced persons had been set up. The first Aquaforce 2,000 was deployed there. The second unit was set up in the Maraza neighbourhood of Beira, which is particularly affected by cholera.
How do the Mozambicans view these newcomers from abroad?
MC: In the areas where we worked, the Mozambicans warmly welcomed the foreign workers. I was impressed by the resilience of the local population. In Beira, people quickly rallied round and started to rebuild, repair roofs and clean up the streets. The situation is more difficult for those living in rural areas. They have lost their homes and their crops, which were their means of subsistence. Their stories are quite moving.
Is the water produced using little-known equipment well received?
MC: The Mozambicans in the camps were keen to drink the water even before it was ready. We were also visited by a minister who, like us, drank the water from the Aquaforces. It was reassuring for people.
How did you communicate with the Portuguese-speaking population?
MC: I spoke Portuñol! A little Spanish and a lot of resourcefulness, coupled with the help of English-speaking Mozambicans who translated for us.
What state are you in when you return from three weeks in a humanitarian emergency context?
MC: You quickly get back into your daily routine but you obviously feel out of step at first. The time spent on the ground is intense in an emergency and survival situation far removed from our comfortable lives in France.
Interview by Veolia Foundation.
Marie Gaveriaux: "Training the local people to ensure sustainable access to water."
A chemical and process engineer at Veolia Eau, Marie Gaveriaux spent three weeks in Mozambique in April in the Beira region after Cyclone Idai wreaked havoc in the country. As a Veoliaforce volunteer, she trained local people to operate the Foundation's equipment.
You left a month after tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall. The cyclone particularly affected Mozambique's coastline. What were your first impressions on the ground?
Marie Gaveriaux: The residents have demonstrated a surprising level of resilience: the streets were quickly cleared of debris. However, the situation was significantly more challenging in the rural areas than in Beira, which is nevertheless the country's second city with a population of 500,000.
From a personal standpoint, I discovered the world of humanitarian coordination, a world that I knew nothing about. It is impossible to imagine the organizational structures put in place after this sort of disaster. And I am full of admiration for Solidarités International, the Veolia Foundation's partner, with whom we worked.
On the ground you and Frédéric Gogien took over from another pair of Veoliaforce volunteers. What was your role?
MG: Marlène Cothenet and Romain Thémereau worked with Solidarités International to set up two Aquaforce 2000 units before our arrival. We had to organise the next phase of the project. We had to optimize the quality of the water produced and above all train a team of local people to ensure sustainable water access.
How did the training go given the fact that you don't speak Portuguese?
MG: We got by with a bit of English, a bit of Spanish... and a lot of hand gestures! It was important that there were two of us. Each of us carved out a place and found a way of expressing themselves. Our trainees quickly gave Frédéric Gogien the nickname of Inspector Gadget. Our aim was to ensure that the four young Mozambicans who we were training became independent. They were starting up the Aquaforce units themselves after a few days of training.
What arrangements did you make to cover your time away from work at Veolia Water Technologies (Saint-Maurice, Val de Marne, Veolia Eau)?
MG: The timing wasn't ideal as my project manager was going on maternity leave on the very day I had to leave. But my managers were a great source of support. They gave me the go-ahead on a Sunday and we organised the handover as best as possible so that I could go away without it hitting my team too hard.
What's your view of the assignment?
MG: I headed home with the feeling of having had an incredible experience. I learned a lot about myself, the country...coming home was inevitably somewhat brutal - you have to get back in tune with reality. We spent three weeks on the ground, having to adapt every day, and sometimes improvise in order to find the best solution. You come back to a more settled and also more ordered way of life. That's the nature of the game!
Interview by Veolia Foundation.
Camille Beaupin: "The concept of time is different in humanitarian emergencies."
You were asked to go on this Veoliaforce volunteer assignment. How do you prepare for travelling to a humanitarian emergency situation?
Camille Beaupin: You obviously need to plan ahead as you will be away from both work and home, and you need to be in a position to be responsive and fly out the very next day. Once the practical arrangements have been sorted out, you can fully devote yourself to your role.
I had never worked in a post-humanitarian disaster context before, so I found arriving on the ground slightly disconcerting. Many humanitarian aid workers were on the ground and coordination is done as well as possible, but information transfer is not always perfect. I discovered what goes on "behind the scenes" in humanitarian work over the first few days. It's a job in itself - identifying needs, tailoring resources, sharing out equipment etc.
You teamed up with a permanent member of the Foundation's staff and set up an Aquaforce 2000, the mobile drinking water purification unit designed by the Foundation's engineers, working with MSF.
CB: Yes, several dozen kilometres from Dombé to the west of Beira. We needed to pinpoint the best water supply point and organise access to the distribution systems that we wanted to set up as close as possible to the local communities, i.e. 1km of piping had to be laid in the open country.
How did you get on with the local population?
CB: Because we were producing water with equipment that was unknown to the Mozambicans, we had to adopt an educational approach, drink the water from the Aquaforces, and, in a general sense, explain what we were doing. But above and beyond our work as Veoliaforce volunteers, the local communities were very dynamic, despite the tragedy that had occurred. People are resilient and are already looking to rebuild in a relatively independent way. It was impressive stuff and I did at times wonder how we would react in France if faced with this sort of disaster...
What surprised you the most during this assignment?
CB: Volunteers need to be flexible to deal with the contingencies. The situation changes every day, everyone wants to do their best but has to coordinate with the other stakeholders involved. And then you are in contact with contacts abroad, without always grasping that it is actually the weekend elsewhere in the world and decisions will only be taken on Monday. The concept of time is different in humanitarian emergencies.
Sylvain Delage: "People had nothing left in Dombé"
You left in early April as part of the second wave of Veoliaforce volunteers after Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique. What were your first impressions on the ground?
Sylvain Delage: It was both surprising because we didn't really know what to expect, yet everything also seemed quite organised. I didn't know who was going to greet me in Beira but I followed my luggage which a driver had loaded into a MSF car. This was followed by a briefing with the NGO's teams (the NGO is a Veolia Foundation partner), and then we were very swiftly on the ground. We slotted into fluid processes despite being in a humanitarian emergency context.
In Beira and then Dombé, you operated the Aquaforces, the mobile water production units designed by the Veolia Foundation, and trained staff to use them.
SD: Yes, the first wave of Veoliaforce volunteers deployed the equipment and those, like me, who came on the second wave, operated the units and prepared the Aquaforces for life after our departure. With Julien de Sousa in Beira and Camille Beaupin in Dombé, we trained MSF staff and local volunteers so that water production could continue after we all left.
You worked in an urban area in Beira and in Dombé in the rural region of Manica. What is life like for the communities hit by Cyclone Idai?
SD: Things are very different depending on the environment. Rebuilding has begun in Beira and there are lots of people in the markets, people have smiles on their faces, and their resilience is coming to the fore. The atmosphere is completely different in the rural areas. People have nothing left: they are hungry, they flag you down at the roadside, tell you about spending three days perched in the trees waiting for the water levels to go down. The climate is also more challenging and the living conditions for Veoliaforce volunteers are basic: no water or power...we had to acclimatize to it.
How did you find returning home after three weeks away?
SD: A Veoliaforce volunteer assignment is first and foremost an enormous amount of visual information to take in. The days are packed and you have to constantly pay the utmost attention. You come back to a more normal pace of life. As for me, all I need is a good night's sleep and I am ready to go! My colleagues were curious about what I had been doing for three weeks, so I prepared a report, with lots of photos, to tell them about it.
Interview by Veolia Foundation
Romain Thémereau: "A further reason to love my job"
You travelled to Mozambique only a few days after Idai, a category four cyclone, ravaged the Beira region. What were your first impressions on the ground?
Romain Thémereau: It was really shocking! Houses had lost their roofs, the tops of trees had been ripped off... I had prepared myself but it was staggering. I had already travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan for the Veolia Foundation on a training assignment but natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies are unique.
What did you do on the ground?
RT: I teamed up with Marlène Cothenet, another Veoliaforce volunteer, and we set up two Aquaforce 2000 units - the mobile drinking water production units designed by the Veolia Foundation. We needed to identify the right locations in Beira and the surrounding area before we set up the equipment in order to ensure that the water produced was as useful as possible. We then trained local people so that they could continue operating the Aquaforces after we left.
You spent three weeks away. How did your colleagues cope with you being away from work?
RT: I am fortunate enough to have an independent team at the plant that I manage in Blois. At the same time, my line manager gave me the go-ahead and everyone pitched in so that things went as well as possible.
And how did you find coming back to France?
RT: I think you need 24 hours to get back on your feet. And then you become aware of our comfortable lifestyle and how lucky we are. Clearly, the Veolia Foundation's work fits with my personal values. This sort of voluntary work is a further reason to love the job I do in France. This sort of practical involvement is vital for me. It helps provide a balance between my daily life and my firmly held belief about helping others.
Julien de Sousa: "Supplying water in emergency situations is vital"
The Veolia Foundation asked you to volunteer your skills in Mozambique. When a humanitarian disaster occurs, volunteers have to leave in just a few days. How did you organize this, from both a work and personal perspective?
Julien de Sousa: The very day that the Foundation called, I talked to my partner about it. We are the parents of a little girl who has just turned one. My partner told me to "go for it!". The next day my line manager at Veolia gave me the go-ahead and I had to dash around getting vaccinated and completing the formalities so that I could be on the ground on 29 March.
You spent three weeks on the ground deploying Aquaforce mobile drinking water production units, working alongside MSF, one of the foundation's partners...
JS: MSF had already scouted for locations in order to guide us with regard to water requirements and first and foremost was starting to set up cholera treatment centres. The disease is endemic in the region and an epidemic was on the cards due to the stagnating water. We had an Aquaforce 15,000, a drinking water production unit designed by the Veolia Foundation and able to supply 15,000 people with 20l per day (the WHO standard). However, the population was very scattered, so the unit was too big for the health centre where we were located. We had to adopt a pragmatic approach and run two supply lines from the Aquaforce so as to tailor our resources to the needs, located in Beira but also further to the west of the city.
How is this type of humanitarian work perceived by colleagues and outside Veolia?
JS: I am fortunate enough to have a highly competent team who are able to effectively handle the vagaries of our work when I am away. In my view, I also needed to inform the local councillors, our local contacts, to explain to them what a Veolia employee was going to do on the ground in the context of a humanitarian mission. People are largely unaware of our ability to manage this type of situation. It is however vital. Supplying water to needy people in emergency situations is not inconsequential; it could even be viewed as absolutely vital.
Cédric Thévenot: "The atmosphere in the first days following a disaster is very unusual."
You set off very soon after the disaster took place. You were one of the first humanitarian aid workers to arrive on the ground alongside the various Red Cross staff members...
Cédric Thévenot: Yes, as a member of the Red Cross ERU, I am regularly asked to travel to disaster areas and be on the front line. To tell you the truth, I like it! Of course, there is a surge of adrenaline as you want to help the disaster-hit communities as soon as possible, and at the same time you have to manage phases of inertia, when everyone is getting organised and is coordinating, even as people need help. This may take several hours or half-days, but when faced with a distraught population who are shocked by what has just happened, it is always difficult.
In this case, a cargo plane arrived 24 hours after us, so we unloaded the equipment and identified a storage warehouse. At the same time, the NGOs were trying to assess the needs and rank the priorities, which was not easy at all given that a large number of areas were still inaccessible. All in all, the atmosphere really is unique.
Was the scale of the disaster clear right from the outset?
CT: No, because the affected area was very big and most of the roads were impassable for the first few days. We only had one or two helicopters available. Logistics were the main issue: how to travel around, how to transport the equipment etc. We needed to find vehicles and drivers. And then sometimes you have pleasant surprises such as when we came across 5,000m³ of drinking water stored by the local operator since the supply system had been shut down. This meant that we could arrange water trucking to deliver the water to the local population.
Knowing where to produce water is not obvious in this context...
CT: As there was a need to manage the flow of injured people who were going to arrive and the cholera outbreak feared by all the NGOs, medical centres were the priority. We installed water treatment and drinking water storage units, as well as latrines, near to hospitals and in the temporary camps for the cyclone victims.
Heading off to a disaster zone with virtually no prior warning requires both personal and professional organisation. How did you cope?
CT: I am fortunate enough to have a colleague, Mickaël Pannard, at Doubs where I work, who is also a Veoliaforce volunteer, and we are very supportive of each other. When one of us goes to do humanitarian work, the other one ensures that everything runs smoothly in the team. From a personal perspective, as I have been in the ERU for a decade and I have been a Veoliaforce volunteer for close to 15 years, my family are well aware of the fact that I may head off at any time! We have two children and the advantage is that real life restarts very quickly when you get back...
Interview by Veolia Foundation.
David Poinard: "I had never before seen the phenomenon of soil liquefaction extending over several kilometres."
On 28 September 2018, a serious earthquake and tsunami devastated the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Engaged in emergency humanitarian operations organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Veolia Foundation sent two Veoliaforce experts into the field. One was David Poinard, Technical Service Manager Water Engineering for Greater Lyon. He tells us about his 15 day mission in Palu, Indonesia.
Before any Veoliaforce volunteers leave, the Veolia Foundation works to support them so they are able to work in the best possible conditions. And according to David Poinard this support is essential: "Before I left, the Foundation sought to target the needs of the population and the most accessible places with good hydrological conditions in order to help them. It first identified an installation site in a safe area and then made the first contact with local authorities, including the Indonesian Red Cross, with a view to developing a mission strategy," he says.
Once there, David Poinard says he was stunned by the devastation caused by the tsunami. Although he had been on missions in disaster areas before, he had "never before seen the phenomenon of soil liquefaction extending over several kilometres". Houses reduced to rubble and villages completely swept away were adjacent to some neighbourhoods which had not been impacted by the earthquake. "What surprised me the most was the optimism of the people there who had no hesitation in reaching out to us and were still smiling despite everything," he admits.
An intense 15 day mission
The following 15 days were "particularly intense": although David Poinard and his colleague José De Graeve, the Foundation’s logistics manager, were working very long hours in the stifling heat, they managed to offer concrete support. During this mission, David Poinard set up drinking water production stations "on the basis of the criteria identified and selected by the WHO". Two mobile water treatment units (Aquaforce 2000) were installed on the main Palu River, producing nearly 40 m3 of water per day, which was distributed to several thousand people. The volunteers also took care of the supply for the water tankers taking water out to the affected populations.
The two experts sent by the Foundation were also responsible for training the local Indonesian Red Cross teams so they would be completely autonomous and after their departure could continue to ensure the production and distribution of water to the population while simultaneously continuing their hygiene awareness work in the refugee camps. Although the technical part of the water supply was efficiently provided thanks to the suitability of the equipment developed by the Foundation, "it is organizing and coordinating the various teams that was the most difficult aspect," he explains.
The Veolia Foundation, at the heart of the "resourcing the world" mission
David Poinard, a Veolia employee since 2001, was not venturing into unknown territory. A Veolia Foundation volunteer since 2005, he was previously in Saint-Martin in 2017 following Hurricane Irma. An earlier still in 2015, he helped in an IDP camp in Bardarash, near the conflict zones in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he assessed access to clean water.
The Veolia Foundation is involved in the emergency missions that punctuate international crises through its network of volunteer Veolia employees that have been trained in field conditions beforehand. Its primary aim is to help following natural disasters or improve the living conditions of destitute people. "The Veolia Foundation is the quintessence of our leitmotif, which is to resource the world," explains David Poinard. Behind the actions are "the people on the ground where there are humanitarian emergencies, but also all the teams that coordinate missions behind the scenes," he concludes.
Marie Girandier: " We are talking 7 am to 10 pm, with one short break to devour a local chapatti!"
Marie Girandier, 40, is an OTV Project Manager for Industrial Wastewater Treatment. Educated as a biologist, she took the Foundation’s training course in 2017. The Uganda mission was her first travel assignment as a Veoliaforce volunteer.
How was the Aquaforce 15000 installation handled?
In terms of technology, it was quite close to what I had seen during the Foundation course. What was really new to me actually had more to do with peripheral aspects like installing the pipe network in such a way as to be available at a spot that was accessible by lorry, or setting up the inlet filters in the waters of Lake Albert that were contaminated by cholera, or organizing connections/ disconnections to be repeated on a regular basis to wash the filters, etc.
What was the most difficult aspect of the mission?
The working pace was incredibly intense. We are talking 7 am to 10 pm, with one short break to devour a local chapatti! And this for 15 days, and let me say it was highly physical, especially the initial days which were devoted to assembling the Aquaforce.
What happened when you returned from the mission?
At the office, my colleagues were very curious about what I had experienced on site. In fact, I have promised them a comprehensive presentation of the mission in the near future. On a personal note, I had to get used all over again to a sedentary activity, this after spending 15 days in the open air bolting tanks and manipulating sundry items. A readjustment period is inevitable after this, if only for the body!
Michaël Pannard: "The challenge was to complete the mission in a short timeframe with extensive autonomy."
The Veolia Foundation is helping the French Red Cross and the Qatari and Iraqi Red Crescent organizations to supply potable water to the Khazer 2 camp, 30 km east of Mosul in Iraq. The refugee camp houses 2,500 families, which is around 30,000 people. Mickael Pannard, a Veoliaforce volunteer and project manager for this mission, has just returned after three weeks in the field. He talks about his experience.
"We installed the M40 in partnership with the French Red Cross and with the help of volunteers from the Iraqi Red Crescent. The Qatari Red Crescent were responsible for managing the tank trucks. We also trained Iraqi volunteers to operate the unit including the drinking water chemistry and treatment aspects. The challenge was to complete the mission in a short timeframe with extensive autonomy, and to quickly ensure Iraqi volunteers got to grips with the unit," says Mickael Pannard, Veoliaforce volunteer and head of the Veolia France Water Doubs unit.
Louis-Joseph Jourdana: "Putting my experience and skills in the service of others"
A Veolia employee for the last 16 years, Louis-Joseph Jourdana is a plant technician. Every day, he ensures the proper operation of drinking water and wastewater treatment plants and carries out maintenance work. In June 2016 he underwent special training to join the Veoliaforce response team, made up of 500 volunteers, and to participate in the humanitarian emergency missions organized by the Veolia Foundation all over the world. «I wanted to put my experience and skills in the service of others» he says. On October 11, he flew to Haiti for his first mission with Veoliaforce. His objective: restoring access to drinking water for the populations most affected by hurricane Matthew.
Plant technician and member of the Veoliaforce intervention team
More information here.