``We decided that offering our staff security training was a positive way of increasing awareness of safety & security.``
``This incident marks the moment when War Child lost its innocence.``
Interview between Ebe (CSD) and Tjipke (CEO War Child Holland)
Ebe: You were the first Dutch NGO to provide staff with safety & security training on a structural basis. What prompted the idea of organising safety & security training for War Child staff?
Tjipke: In 2003, we faced a serious security incident in Bukavu in Congo. Two members of female staff were attacked in their house by two drunken soldiers. The soldiers climbed over the wall surrounding the house and were able to get in. Both women were attacked and seriously injured.
This incident marks the moment when War Child lost its innocence.
When this case was coming to a conclusion, I was working in the management team as programme director. We decided that offering our staff security training was a positive way of increasing awareness of safety & security.
``Another trend I’ve noticed is that people sent on missions are increasingly aware of safety & security. They’re less naive and better trained. ``
E: Why did you opt for CSD?
T: At the time of the incident, we were already talking to CSD about safety & security training, so one of my colleagues pursued the issue with CSD then. CSD really appealed to us, because you were the only organisation specialising in NGO safety & security.
E: What do you think about the first safety & security training course in 2005 in Balk?
T: We were very satisfied with it – in fact, staff still talk about Balk, even though it’s 14 years ago. It was a unique activity that really brought people together. It put safety & security firmly on the map at War Child.
When I encounter dangerous situations abroad, I often think back to that Balk training course. It was a well-organised course that really hit the spot.
E: What differences have you noticed between the current Basic HEAT Course and the safety & training In Balk back then?
T: I think there’s now a more balanced structure than there was initially. In Balk, we immediately started with the Hostage scenario, which was really jumping in at the deep end. Fortunately, we had an excellent debriefing with the trainers and Arjan Erkel (Ed. Arjan Erkel worked for MSF and was held hostage in Dagestan for 607 days in 2002.).
I also found the simulations useful, because they made the training realistic and practical.
At the time, Arjan gave a presentation about his experiences when he was kidnapped. A Ugandan member of staff stood up and said that he’d experienced a hostage situation of this kind. He made clear that practising the hostage scenario is anything but a game, but sadly essential in the view of the harsh reality.
E: How do you ensure that awareness of safety & security remains high at War Child?
T: Before this, I was a Human Resource Manager at Transavia airlines. At Transavia, it was standard practice on every departure to go through five cards of safety & security questions with the cabin crew. This was a really effective way of keeping it on the agenda.
Something I introduced at War Child was that, at every meeting, as well as asking how things are going and what people have experienced, we also asked each other whether there are still any safety & security issues at play. If you’re consistent in doing this, it ensures awareness of safety & security remains high and it’s possible to discuss these issues.
E: What trends have you noticed in this area?
T: I’ve noticed increasing numbers of conflicts in the world and they’re becoming more and more unpredictable. Wherever you are, things can suddenly flare up. Another trend I’ve noticed is that people sent on missions are increasingly aware of safety & security. They’re less naive and better trained.
That’s another thing that’s different from the course back in 2005. I can still see us now, sitting together in a circle. We were a young, inexperienced and enthusiastic club. In the years since then, War Child has developed into a mature and experienced group of professionals. The naiveté has gone, but the enthusiasm remains.