By Cyprien Fabre
ECHO Head of West Africa Office
It was during the winter of 1997. Between the Bosnian border and Tuzla where I was posted ... hundreds of kilometres of ruins, destroyed houses and collapsed roofs. Not one village remained intact; most of them were empty and the winter fog gave my first contact with the humanitarian world a gloomy and ominous feel. I had just been hired as a Works Supervisor in this NGO for a reconstruction project funded by “ECHO”. Coming from the world of business and not knowing anything yet about the acronyms that pepper the humanitarian vocabulary, I quickly understood that ECHO was our funding provider: the face of Europe with its own logo; a presence to explain the complicated procedures, and with which to find solutions.
It was the beginning of a lasting relationship. From one mission to another, from a hydraulic project to a project on nutrition, from the integration of refugees to the opening of rural routes, ECHO was never far away: playing the role of a partner who is more than just a financial backer. Sometimes in the role of companion, going further with us, closer to the humanitarian action; sometimes there to raise the profile of the actions being carried out — never indifferent.
Some years later, now eight years past, it was my turn to play the role of go-between, the intermediary between the cold, strict, complicated procedures from ‘Brussels’ and the realities of daily life which do not always fit the boxes. It is an exciting role. It requires sufficiently worn soles to be credible and effective. It requires the subtlety not to impose the framework, but rather to provide it. It requires humility too because the burden of suffering is continuous and often exceeds the hard work put in by everyone trying to lessen it.
Money is at the heart of war. It is also at the heart of humanitarian work. ECHO will remain a major and respected actor in providing humanitarian aid because its network will be deployed the furthest away, the quickest, and the closest to the need. Whether there are journalists or not, whether there are other humanitarian organisations or not, it is within this ECHO that I recognise myself.