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Debriefings, and briefings... working in a full steam!

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Robore, Bolivia; January 2020

The trip from Santa Cruz to Panama City was exhausting, though thankfully, trouble free. I landed in Panama on Friday at 5:50 in the morning, and got home to have some coffee, and catch up with resting. I was so tired that I managed to sleep 10 hours straight!

The rest of the weekend was a very pleasant relaxation. Reading, studying, watching movies… Stress free and fun.

Today at work however, I was busy. I tried to prepare and deliver my debriefings from the trips to Ecuador and Bolivia to my colleagues in Panama and Brussels. There is so many things and learnings to follow-up from the trip. We definitely need to get better and wiser on how we get ready to disasters and how we cooperate with our partners. Comparisons are rarely fair and just, but in general the capacity of local organisations (governmental and non-governmental) in most of Asian countries was so much stronger. I guess overwhelming corruption, perhaps lack of resources, and perhaps the attitude that things will get sorted out somehow, anyway may be contributing to the shockingly low level of being ready for disasters. This is worrying, as Latin America is prone to earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, not to mention droughts, hurricanes or floods. When adding social unrest, and humanitarian issues deriving from migration or local conflicts which seem to be a reality in most of the countries around then you will understand my concerns.

In the same time, I am under no illusion that we are able to change any of the above… but then, as an international organisation with funds and lots of experience, we do have a role to play, however small (but hopefully, useful). We need to challenge ourselves better, and think through what we can do better to trigger some changes for the most vulnerable communities. My debriefings to colleagues are meant to provide some food for thought… Let's see how it goes.

As I am dealing with the lessons learnt from the trip to Bolivia and Ecuador, I am also preparing for my visit to Brazil next week. I may have mentioned to you, I would be going to visit Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Brasilia to visit projects of UNHCR and Caritas, supporting Venezuelan refugees in the mentioned cities. Although, I am very excited to be travelling, I am also a bit worried that the scale of the problems of the refugees will be overwhelming, and thus somehow detrimental. Let's see how things go.

On another note, I am very excited to be supporting my mother in her trip to Jerusalem. Together with her friend, they are travelling there tomorrow night. It has always been a dream for her to go there, and I am excited to be briefing her a bit on how to prepare, so that they really have a great time while in that magnificent city.

Travelling for work

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The Delegation of the EU to Bolivia in La Paz; January 2020

After relaxing end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, it is very busy travelling now.

A little over a week ago, I set off to travel to Quito and the Province of Bolivar in Ecuador and then continued to La Paz in Bolivia, where I am now.

The trip is work related, and that means that I am visiting various humanitarian projects. While in Ecuador, we visited various communities in the Bolivar Province, which two years ago were badly affected by the earthquake. We went there to talk to the residents of the villages and the local authorities about what could be done to prepare better for future calamities. While the conversations were very interesting, I am worried that things are not going well. There is a degree of passivity and lack of enthusiasm from people (villagers and authorities alike). The feeling I have is that people are resigned and do not believe that anything could be done to be better equipped to deal with disasters, and they just hope that things will not get that bad. I found this attitude to be very sad, as in my mind it results from lack of leadership from politicians and responsible agencies (such as civil protection services) which have responsibilities to show the solutions. There are plenty of things that can and should be done! There is technology and there is knowledge and there are resources to get things sorted out. Trouble is that there does not seem to be right people in right places to take action, despite clear needs and potential opportunities. Lots to think about to work out how to break this vicious circle.

While the impressions from the Bolivar Province were not too encouraging, I was much more impressed by the advances of the project that deals with school preparedness to disasters in Ecuador. Our conversations to the Ministry of Education and some of our partners (NGOs and UN agencies) showed how much can be achieved if there is leadership and enthusiasm! The managers of the project have clear vision on how to involve children, parents, teachers and local communities in setting up the contingency plans, and implement those in real lives. Our counterparts refuse to accept that calamities should be given into, but have accepted them and are creative on ways to minimise their negative impact when they occur, and work out ways of bringing help to everyone who may need it, when the time comes! It is amazing to see that just mere awareness spreading on how to behave, where to evacuate, etc., already makes miracles. Additional application of technology only should enhance the resilience of the people at risk!

I am now in Bolivia, and will deal with similar exercises in La Paz and Santa Cruz. I just hope that we will experience more enthusiasm than passivity here…

The time at the seaside

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Playa Blanca, Santa Clara, Panama; January 2020


My time with Tahir, here in Panama is slowly drawing to its end… However it is not quite over yet. We are still here in Playa Blanca, enjoying the long weekend today, and will be here until tomorrow evening.

We then head back to Panama City, and I will start packing for my trip to Ecuador and Bolivia, and Tahir will be slowly getting ready to get back to Canada.

I enjoyed my Christmas and New Year's celebrations this year very much. Getting to know Panama, out of the capital city, together with Tahir, was special.

Panama proves to be a very interesting and a beautiful place, full of charming sites and with friendly people (for those who may have missed the pictures,
the gallery from the season can be found at this link).

Now, time to re-start working with a full steam. As I mentioned, I am preparing to travel to Ecuador and Bolivia and then in February to Brazil. While in Ecuador, I will be getting to now our existing programmes, and trying to meet with partners in the country to learn about their preparedness systems to be deployed, when disasters strike. When in Bolivia, on the other hand, we will be assessing the impact of our support to the communities, who suffered from the forestal fires some 4 months ago. The idea is to check on the recovery of the communities, and learn some lessons on what we could do better to prepare for the next fire season… Sadly, it will come again.

When in Brazil, next month, we will be focusing on the well-being of the Venezuelan refugees in the country, and we will try assessing what we could do to support UNHCR, NGOs, and indirectly, the Government of Brazil in their efforts of welcoming the Venezuelans in the country. My job will be to travel around bigger cities of the country (Rio de Janeiro, San Paulo, Recife, and Brasilia, etc.) to discover the needs of the urban refugees, while my colleague will be focusing in the well-being of the refugees in the camps along the border between Venezuela and Brazil in the Amazon Province.

The new updates will come soon, as I visit the above mentioned places.

Happy New Year 2020!

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Volcan, Panama; December 2019

Last days of 2019, together with Tahir, I spent in western province of Panama, called Chiriqui. It is a very popular part of the country with tourists… and rightly so. The mountains, the seaside, charming villages, breathtaking nature, kind hearted people and lots of activities to keep you busy! A truly attractive place to spend your break, especially with people that you care about (in a separate post, I will share with you some pictures soon)!

So in the spirit of tranquility of the beautiful Chiriqui, I would like to wish you all, wherever you are in the world a very, very happy 2020! May you be showered with success, joy, wonders and happiness! May 2020 be the best year of your lives!