Hilary Wahanda (front left) during a past event for UN Volunteers serving in Somalia.
Hilary Wahanda (centre) with Dinna Urio, UNV Programme Support Officer in Somalia (right) during an event for UN Volunteers serving in Somalia.

Wellbeing was already a challenge, then COVID-19 hit

Hilary Wahanda (Kenya) serves as a UN Volunteer with the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS). He is part of the mission's Staff Welfare Unit, which caters to the wellbeing of UN personnel in Somalia. We interviewed Hilary on the occasion of World Mental Health Day, 10 October, and share his contributions.

Tell us about the nature of your posting

I am a UN Volunteer with UNSOS based in Mogadishu, Somalia. The core mission of UNSOS is to provide critical support needed by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and Somali Security Forces for effective peacebuilding efforts in Somalia.

For all UN personnel serving in a peacekeeping mission, security threat is a recurring issue. However, our security department has always been supportive and has put in place a lot of measures to ensure the safety of UN personnel. We have also taken several courses that help shape our individual assessment of the surrounding environment.

Serving as a UN Volunteer in a United Nations peacekeeping setting has brought great benefits to me, particularly in terms of expanding my knowledge and understanding of how the UN operates. --Hilary Wahanda, UN Volunteer with UNSOS

What do you do as a UN Volunteer in a peacekeeping mission?

As a UN Volunteer Gym Supervisor, I work with our vibrant Staff Welfare Unit to coordinate social and sporting activities. Accordingly, I have had the opportunity to interact with almost all UN staff working in Somalia.

It is a privilege to be part of a wider team that cares for the wellbeing of staff within the camp. The best part of my work is when we get positive feedback. Sometimes, people even reschedule their plans to participate in social or sports events that I have helped organize – demonstrating the importance of staff wellness.

What challenges have you encountered?

COVID-19 has been a great challenge for many, due to significant changes in the dynamics of our operation and day-to-day activities. For example, staff have not been able to use newly constructed sports field – comprising a basketball court that doubles up as a tennis court and a soccer pitch that doubles up as a touch rugby pitch.

Other common recreation areas, like the gym, are in operation, but with strict COVID-19 protocols that permit no more than five people training indoors simultaneously. Important community sports activities that staff have often participated in have also been halted due to COVID-19 restrictions.

To cope with COVID-19 restrictions, I have had to innovate with available staff welfare options, such as outdoor and online sports activities. Working closely with colleagues and in consultation with the Medical Unit, we have come up with more viable activities that staff can engage in to help relieve stress in our complex context. --Hilary Wahanda

What’s one thing you have learned since starting your assignment?

In my day-to-day work, I get to socialize and engage with colleagues from different nationalities. This has enabled me to have a multicultural perspective and appreciate the diversity of humanity.

I have learned that people are often more caring and at peace when provided with opportunities to express themselves in a positive environment. Sports, social and cultural events are some of such avenues. --Hilary Wahanda

How can UNV enhance the wellbeing of UN Volunteers?

Working for the UN in locations such as Mogadishu – a tough UN duty station – requires significant commitment and resilience. I have been lucky to benefit from the training and coaching opportunities offered by the UN Volunteers programme (UNV), which have prepared me well for this assignment.

I think that UNV needs to invest more in transition planning and career guidance for UN Volunteers, particularly towards the end of our assignments.

Overall, my UNV assignment has been quite fulfilling. I want to continue working on staff wellbeing and mental health in the UN or wider development system in future, as I believe health and mental wellness is becoming increasingly critical among development professionals.