Editors' Note: James Brown, Head of Drivers for Action Against Hunger in Uganda, sadly passed away last weekend. One of our longest-serving staff members, James Brown was enormously valued and respected by all, and we send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and co-workers as we grieve his loss. In memory of James Brown and in honor of his incredible years of service with Action Against Hunger, we are republishing a story about him and his dedication to his career and the communities he served. (The story was originally written and published in June 2017.)
This James Brown may not be the godfather of soul, but the skills and expertise he has brought to Action Against Hunger over the past two decades have been out of sight. James joined Action Against Hunger in 1993 as a Mechanics Personnel in his home country of Uganda. Later, he served as a Support Mechanic in South Sudan, a Logistics Assistant in Rwanda, and then, in 2000, he was appointed the Head of Drivers in Uganda, the role he held for 17 years.
Although it may not be the role that is the most visible in humanitarian emergencies, without experienced drivers who can navigate through remote and often dangerous places, aid agencies cannot get to communities in need to deliver help. People like James Brown are the engines that power Action Against Hunger’s lifesaving work.
Drivers are required to deliver relief supplies in places where there are bad roads or no roads at all, risks of banditry and conflict, floods, and any number of other unpredictable situations. They need to know how to repair vehicles in isolated areas, how to handle being stopped and questioned at checkpoints in areas suffering from conflict, how to maintain and uphold strict security protocol to keep Action Against Hunger’s staff and assets safe, how to optimize the use of vehicles and fuel, and how to manage communications from staff in bases with staff on the road to ensure all movements are accounted for and safe.
In 2015, James was honored with Action Against Hunger’s annual international “Employee of the Year Award” for his longstanding commitment to Action Against Hunger’s mission and for his outstanding work in extremely challenging contexts. He was lauded for his professionalism and resolve in the face of substantial risks while helping to deliver assistance to communities in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Sudan.
In June 2017, we asked James Brown to help us take a look “under the hood” of a day in the life of a humanitarian logistics team, and in particular, to tell us about his experiences on the front lines of Action Against Hunger’s emergency programs in Uganda and other challenging areas of the world.
Tell us about your job. What does a typical work day look like for you?
“My role is to drive the vehicles for field-based activities, identify mechanical needs of the vehicles, carry out any minor repairs, and report security threats to the logistics team. A typical day is always demanding and may be stressful if I am required to drive for long hours.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What is the most rewarding?
“The most challenging aspect of my current role is when moving plans change very abruptly. The most rewarding is the long-term service to those in need and the high skills and experience I’ve gained while driving.”
What are your proudest professional moments?
“My proudest moment was when I was given an award for excellent performance in 2000. My second proudest moment happened when Action Against Hunger had to close operations in Rwanda in 1995. All of the agency’s property was supposed to be frozen, but I remained in the country as the Logistician and managed to secure and move all of Action Against Hunger’s property out of the country.
What advice would you give to new logistics professionals?
“A new humanitarian logistician should be ready to give everything to team work, coordination with program and finance teams, and to always act professional.”
What are some of the most significant changes you have seen during your long career?
“There have been changes in some places concerning security policies about traveling by road. When we first launched emergency programs in many places, we used to move in convoys of vehicles to enhance safety, even if only one person was being moved. Now, in many places, security has improved and that is not required. There has also been significant mission growth here in Uganda, with new bases in Uganda like Adjumani, Yumbe, and Imvepi.”
What challenges and innovations do you see on the horizon for humanitarian logistics?
“Challenges in procurement procedures can delay implementation of programs, especially during emergencies. And supply procurement procedures in stable situations should be different from those in emergency situations.”
What is one thing you wish more people knew about humanitarian logistics?
“Not many people seem to know how supply chains function in an emergency response; that is part of our job, and is so important to delivering what people need.”
We’re taking James’ advice to heart. In our Humanitarians Against Hunger story series, we will share more interviews and stories featuring the people who ”get it done” on the front lines: those who set up IT for our most remote bases of operations in places like Uganda; those set up and manage supply warehouses in dangerous contexts like South Sudan; the unstoppable drivers who transport lifesaving relief supplies to the field; the mechanics who literally keep all the moving parts working; the field coordinators who connect all the dots between plans on paper and actually making it all happen in villages and refugee camps; and logistics problem solvers who are utterly critical to saving lives and fighting hunger in the most unpredictable crises on the planet.
We are: For Action. Against Hunger. And we want the world to meet people like James Brown who make it happen and who — in our opinion — are part of the finest team of humanitarian logisticians anywhere on the planet.
Thank you, James Brown. You will be missed.