Canadian aid worker making vital links in Madagascar

Jaclyn Haggarty | July 13, 2015

Canadian Red Cross delegate Erwan Cheneval chats with primary school children during a hygiene promotion session with the Malagasy Red Cross.

As an Operations Manager with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in Madagascar, Erwan helped coordinate the final stages of the Cyclone Chedza response with the Malagasy Red Cross. With much of the country severely affected by the subsequent flooding caused by the cyclone, Erwan played a crucial role in liaising between the host national society and the IFRC to see the operation through its final two months of implementation.
“As an Operations Manager, you are the link,” Erwan explains. “You’re the link between a national society that is complex and the IFRC, which is also extremely complex. Your job is to be in the middle and make sure those two can work together. It’s two worlds I’m discovering and I am enjoying it.”
In a country already affected by extreme poverty and recent plague cases, Madagascar presented a unique set of challenges. The IFRC operation aimed to meet the needs of 25,000 affected people in the areas of shelter, hygiene promotion, water and sanitation, psychosocial support, first aid, relief distribution and disinfection of wells. In addition, with the country’s capital of Antananarivo also impacted by the flooding, the operation required a significant amount of coordination and flexibility to meet the needs of an already vulnerable population in an urbanized environment. Erwan explains the operation’s success was largely attributed to the strong capacity of the Malagasy Red Cross and volunteers, and the valuable relationships he was able to build with the national society.
 “An Operations Manager was definitely needed,” he says. “They have good capacity in Madagascar and they have good well-trained people; what was harder for them was coordination and management. But it comes down to the relationship with the national society. If this doesn’t exist, or if it’s a bad relationship, then nothing happens.”
The Canadian Red Cross, with support from the Government of Canada, is investing in operational leadership and supporting delegates like Erwan to fill such crucial roles in international Red Cross response. In May 2014, the Canadian Red Cross piloted the first Operations Manager training within the Red Cross Movement, bringing together high calibre delegates to build their knowledge and equip them with the right tools to manage emergency operations of various sizes and complexities.
“I learned a lot in the last two months, partly because of the training, partly because of my experience,” Erwan explains. “The training gave me a better understanding of the federation inner systems and a better understanding of the tools at my disposal. That was very, very useful.”
Having deployed with the Canadian Red Cross Emergency Response Unit in response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and twice to Sierra Leone as part of the Ebola response, Erwan is no stranger to supporting complex operations. Now, as part of this talent pool of highly skilled and experienced leadership delegates, Erwan will continue to work with affected national societies and help channel IFRC support. Having only just finished his mission in Madagascar, he is already preparing for his next deployment. This time, he will support operations aimed at assisting Burundi refugees in both Rwanda and Tanzania for the next two months.
“Tanzania will be different [and] Rwanda will be completely different. I think [being an Operations Manager] is a very interesting journey,” he says. “I like that I can see the operations, I can be involved if I want to, but I can also step back and just support the host national society. I think I have the best of the two worlds. I feel very lucky to do this kind of work.”
Erwan Cheneval’s mission to Madagascar and the Canadian Red Cross Operations Manager Training were both made possible through generous contributions from the Canadian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. 
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