When an emergency strikes, Massoumeh Farman-Farmaian is sent to coordinate UNHCR’s response on the ground.

Massoumeh is currently deployed in Uganda, supporting the many thousands of refugees from South Sudan who have been arriving since last July, when fresh violence broke out in their homeland. Massoumeh let's us take a look at a regular day in her life as a UNHCR Emergency Coordinator.

6.00am – Another day begins in Bidibidi, the refugee settlement where I’m working in Uganda. Since I arrived in July 2016, over 333,000 South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda searching for safety. They arrive exhausted, hungry and distressed, and report having seen horrific scenes: violence, killings, rape and forced recruitment.

Five months ago there was nothing here – just bush. Today, there are schools, health clinics and a market. UNHCR and its partners have managed to get over 27,000 children into school. There are even two secondary schools, which is unusual at this stage of an emergency.

7.00am – I gather my team for a quick daily meeting. The days start early and end late around here, sometimes not until 11.00pm or later. Luckily we have very committed staff!

8.00am – I head out to visit the new reception centre and check that everything is in place for refugees to be registered, given a hot meal and a safe place to spend the night. The day after their arrival, each family is given a plot of land by the Ugandan government. UNHCR provides them with plastic sheets and poles to build their own shelters as well as items like blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and soap.

UNHCR Emergency Coordinator, Massoumeh Farman-Farmaian.

South Sudanese refugee children in Bidibidi settlement with their homemade toys.


1.00pm – I meet with a potential partner organisation, to see what activities they can provide to refugees in Bidibidi. It’s important to give refugees a chance to learn new skills so they can make a positive contribution here and once they go home.

3.00pm – I stop by a new set of water taps being built. Making sure that refugees have enough water every day is a challenge. Right now, UNHCR and its partners are trucking in water, but this is very expensive so we are looking into other sustainable sources. We also have to take the local communities into account. We try to serve their needs too, to make sure their access to water is not threatened by the arrival of so many refugees.

5.00pm – I head back to the container we use as an office. I still have many reports to write before I can call it a day. On the way, I meet five young refugees playing with homemade toys – trucks and cars made of cardboard, bottle caps and old flip flops cut out in the shape of wheels – you have no idea how creative they are! It’s the highlight of my day.

11.00pm – Time to get some rest. There is so much to be done, but also many opportunities. Many of the refugees are eager to continue their education and start work. Creating jobs and helping them to become self-reliant is crucial to restoring their dignity.

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