Andrew Robinson has been working for Tearfund for 10 years and was previously working in to get a new relief programme established in Myanmar.

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Andrew Robinson riding a horse in Afghanistan.


Tell us your favourite story from the field? A favourite moment of mine, which has repeated itself, is when people ask me where I’m from. I’ve been asked this question by Syrian refugees, street children in Ethiopia, and Mullahs in Afghanistan. They have no idea where New Zealand is, and when I show them on a map they are amazed! And usually, they react the same way: “Why does someone from such a faraway place care about us?” They are astonished that people from the bottom of the earth know about their situation and want to do something to help. And when I tell them that it’s not just me but there are thousands of people who have donated money or who are praying, they are blown away.  It’s quite a wonderful moment to share, as folk come to this deep realisation that people they will never meet are concerned enough for them that they will give money to help.
 

What was an encounter you’ll never forget? In Afghanistan, I supported a nutrition team working in a really remote mountainous area. It was a terribly tough environment to live in and, sadly, 30% of children in the area suffered from malnutrition. We had nutrition clinics dotted around the region, where mothers and children could be cared for and receive supplements and extra food to help improve their wellbeing. What I will never forget were the amazing grandfathers who would bring their grandchildren to the clinics to be seen. The fathers were busy in the fields, labouring to support their families, and the mothers were often housebound or caring for other children. So, the responsibility of bringing unwell children to the clinics often fell to these grandfathers. They would walk for hours along treacherous mountain tracks, carrying their little ones so they could receive help. I will never forget the tenderness and affection of these tough, rugged men, as they cradled their much-loved grandchildren in their arms. It was humbling to witness, and quite a different image of Afghanistan than what we often see portrayed on television.

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Andrew in Tonga, helping with the clean-up following Cyclone Gita in 2018.

What is one of the most successful projects you have worked on? I was incredibly privileged to be there for the beginning and the end of a nearly three-year relief and recovery project in Dulag, the Philippines. I arrived in Dulag in November 2013, just a few days after Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Cyclone Yolanda). The cyclone had torn through this small coastal town. In every direction, there was just utter devastation to houses, buildings, and fishing boats blown apart; downed power lines. The streets were strewn with tangled sheets of corrugated iron and uprooted trees and vegetation. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of damage and destruction—I’d never seen anything like it.

The organisation I was serving with – one of Tearfund’s international partners – undertook an ambitious shelter recovery project to help the most vulnerable households who had lost everything in the cyclone. Over the next three years, 1,680 simple yet strong homes were constructed for those most in need such as the elderly, the marginalised and those with special needs. I was only there for the first few months of the shelter response, but I saw the impact of the project when I returned to Dulag in 2016. It was incredible to see how the community had been transformed! There were new fishing boats out on the water, the local marketplace was thriving, the streets were abuzz with people, and much of the township had been rebuilt. Best of all was visiting families now safe and sound in their new homes; families who, when I had last seen them, had been living under tarpaulins, sheltering as best they could from the monsoon rains. You don’t always get to experience the successful completion of a relief project, but I am grateful I experienced this one!

Why do you work for Tearfund? 

I hate that there is so much suffering in our world and I want to do something about it.

Kevin Riddell has been working for Tearfund for 10 years and previously spent more than 18 years living in Northern Iraq, working with NGOs and the UN helping to develop services for disabled children, maimed or born with preventable disabilities because of the war and a collapsed health system.


Blog2-body-13-Kevin.jpg Kevin Riddell recently (pre-covid) went to Sri Lanka to help Tearfund's partner with their post-war dairy project.

Tell us your favourite story from the field and an unforgettable encounter? It was early 2003 and Iraq was in chaos after the invasion by the coalition forces. Saddam Hassan had been defeated and the allied forces were just beginning the reconstruction of Iraq. I had just arrived in Erbil, northern Iraq. Although early spring, being a desert, the dust was in the air and the days were already hot.

This wasn’t my first time to Kurdistan, as I had already spent over 10 years there following the Gulf War in 1991. The programme at that time focused on rehabilitating children injured and disabled by the war and/or born with a disability as a result of a collapsed health system. I was the country director of this programme, so for me, revisiting was very special. As I knew my way around the city, I caught a taxi to the Children’s Rehabilitation centre. Most people don’t know where the centre is but to my surprise, the driver said, ‘I know where the centre is because my daughter can walk!’

He went on to tell me that his daughter was born with hip dysplasia. Thanks to our disability community outreach programme, his baby girl had been screened and he brought her for treatment. This was one of the new ideas the programme introduced into the maternity healthcare services. His daughter was now 12, running around and living a normal happy life. That was one of my favourite encounters!

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Kevin at the rehab centre in Iraq.

What is one of the most successful projects you have worked on? The 2003 Boxing Day earthquake programme in Iran. This is not well known in New Zealand but it was quite devastating. In just eight seconds, 35,000 people died in their sleep, another 40,000 were injured and close to 80,000 people were made homeless as their traditional stone houses reduced to rubble.

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Devastation caused by the Boxing Day earthquake in Iran.

I was working with a British Medical emergency NGO based in Baghdad. Following the Bam earthquake,  I coordinated our medical response. By working with key stakeholders, the city’s health centres were reconstructed and supplied with health and emergency equipment. For me, it was very rewarding to leave Iran and return to Iraq, knowing we had a programme that would provide long-term health and emergency needs for the people of Bam.

Why do you work for Tearfund? I am passionate about our Tearfund partners and how they are serving the poor and vulnerable in their communities. They make me willing to go the extra mile, to help their communities to become happier and safer and to build for themselves a better and more hopeful future. We can help them establish long-term solutions so that eventually our partners won’t need our assistance.




 


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