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Lucy Wickham

Lucy Wickham, 37, is a RedR veteran. Since getting involved in 1991 she has been on five assignments and served on the committee. She is currently working for Mouchel's telematics department on variable speed limits for the M25.

During the Zaire Goma refugee crisis in 1994-5 I was working with Medicins Sans Frontiers Holland at the Katale and Kituku refugee camps. They contained 200,000 people and around 10,000-20,000 people respectively, all Hutu refugees from the inter-ethnic killing in Rwanda.

I was 'le chef' - the chief - responsible for all camp sanitation.

I had a team of four ex-pat logisticians and around 200 refugees recruited from the camp working for me. In the context of a fairly grotesque refugee situation I think we were pretty successful.

We were putting in public and family latrines. In the end Katale had a ratio of one pit latrine per 50 people. Mucking out a pit latrine is one of the most unpleasant things you can possibly do.

We were also spraying against vectors - diseases like malaria - looking after body collection and managing the camp rubbish dump.

There were 200 oil drum waste bins and we had two waste trucks.

And we provided two hospitals and 30 health clinics. The entire camp was tented when I arrived and we rebuilt with more robust accommodation over six months.

Nearly all materials were sourced locally.

All my challenges were people related. On the technical side, trying to provide toilets in a refugee camp isn't difficult. It can be logistically challenging, but if you have clocked up some engineering and project management experience in the UK it is not going to faze you.

Deciding who should work for you, though, is difficult. There was a complete cross section of society in the camps - all trades and skills. But do you take on a top flight accountant or lawyer to clean latrines? We had people who had been eminent professionals asking for the work - people who, before they became refugees, commanded a lot of authority and could have been my clients. To understand that they simply needed any work required you to be very human.

At first I and many of the other emergency workers took on a Hutu versus Tutsi mentality. We were in a camp full of Hutus thinking: it was Hutus that started the genocide in Rwanda and committed some of the worst atrocities. We would look at people and wonder, are you responsible for killing people?

But the scale of the humanitarian disaster was so great that something had to be done regardless of the ethnicity.

Everybody is entitled to shelter, food and water.

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