Siv Steffen Nygaard
Siv is a Danish JPO working for WHO in Mozambique. She tells her story about working with public health institutions, language barriers and social bonding.
What was your motivation in becoming a JPO?
When I saw the vacancy for a JPO for the WHO in Mozambique, I knew that it was an opportunity I could not miss. At the time, I was finishing my MSc in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the deadline for the job application was the same as the deadline for my thesis! I remember sitting all night in my small room in East London high on coffee trying to finish both the thesis and the application. Somehow it all worked out!
What are your activities as a Technical Officer?
My work in WHO Mozambique is very normative. I work very closely with the Observatory for Human Resources for Health in the Ministry of Health supporting their activities, which include data analysis, information sharing and communication of data for evidence-based policy making. In November we had our 3rd Annual Conference, which focused on the role of the maternal and neonatal workforce in achieving universal health coverage.
It was great to see that so many participants showed up and shared their experiences from different provinces to jointly identify ways of closing the vast gap in the health workforce, which is key to respond to the health needs in Mozambique.
What is most challenging?
Personally, a very challenging aspect was the language. All meetings with the Ministry of Health, our main partners, are in Portuguese so in the beginning it takes double courage to interact because you both need something technically sound to say and then you have to translate it to Portuguese. I spoke Spanish before I came, but am still struggling with my “Portuñol”.
I have made several linguistic misunderstandings in professional and social settings. A classic example is when I in a meeting with the Director for Public Health tried to explain that a certain vaccine contained preservatives. I didn’t remember the word in Portuguese so I translated directly from English. Unfortunately, “preservativo” in Portuguese means contraception or more specifically, condoms!
What is most fulfilling?
As everywhere else, there are many fulfilling aspects of my experience here. When you are based abroad, there is always a lot of transition of colleagues and friends as well as many cooperation partners and NGOs. I found it very fulfilling when I started feeling integrated in the Ministry of Health because colleagues started recognising me, coming to me to follow up on projects and inviting me for social events.
Socially, I find it the way people support each other incredible. There is a common understanding among expats that we are all away from our usual social networks and therefore there are completely different limits to what you do for people whom you barely know. When I arrived, my supervisor lend me dollars to pay my rent because of a delay in my salary. Later, when my landlord cancelled my lease without notice, my friend’s brother and his pregnant wife hosted me for over a month without pay.
What advice would you give to a future JPO?
Have patience, things take time! And I know it's a common joke but they really do! Enjoy your time, travel as much as you can, there are so many beautiful places to see. Talk with people, take the 10 minutes in the morning to chat with your house maid – she can tell you about a reality that is easy to oversee when living as an expat.