One Haverford Alum's Life of Service
Haverford: How long have you worked for the UN World Food Programme and how did you get there?
Charles Vincent: I have worked for the UN World Food Programme (UN WFP) since November of 1983, when I was hired by WFP as a UN Volunteer for a post in Karamoja, Uganda, a remote province in northeast Uganda.
HC: How many countries have you worked in, and how has the work varied among them?
CV: I have worked in Uganda, Rome (HQ), Haiti, New York, Afghanistan, DR Congo, and Madagascar (also covering Mauritius), India, and what was then Yugoslavia during the 1992-1995 war.
HC: Do you work directly with the people you are helping, or with administrators of the program?
CV: Early in my career, my work was more directly involved with beneficiaries and communities. However, at the directorial level, my work is more involved in setting the strategy for the organization, advocating with government and donors, and interacting with other agencies to ensure good coordination and cooperation. However, I try to visit the field 7 days a month to see what is happening, in order to understand the successes and constraints in the area. Defining a new strategy for the Programme and getting the team and donors to be excited about it have a positive impact on the populations we try to help.
HC: What do you find most challenging about your job?
CV: In high risk countries such as Haiti, Afghanistan, and Democratic Republic of Congo, the security of staff is a key concern for me. Another challenge is finding enough funding for WFP’s humanitarian operations. For example, the food assistance and logistical parts of the program in DRC total 100 million dollars per year. Finally, it is important to ensure that the staff shares a common vision.
HC: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
CV: It is most rewarding when we are able to deliver assistance to needy communities in an operational and cost efficient way. For example, we try to ensure that Internally Displaced Persons, who depend partially or completely on our assistance, receive what they need, when they need it. This way, malnutrition rates will not go up and the displaced persons can return to their homes. I also like to share my knowledge with younger colleagues so that they can benefit from my experience, if they wish.
HC: You majored in Political Science at Haverford. Did your studies steer you toward the work you are currently doing? Did you always know that you wanted to work in this field?
CV: I started my first semester at Haverford thinking that I would study chemistry. However, the pre-med organic chemistry course told me that I was good, but not that good (80% of my classmates were ahead of me). I took a variety of courses and ended up enjoying political science the most, so I chose it as my major. Additionally, many people in the last three generations of my family were refugees and exiles, so discovering the world was always a part of me. I knew that I wanted to work overseas, but did not know that it would happen to this extent. After I worked on a farm and received my masters in International Rural Development from UC Davis, I oriented myself strongly to international work.
HC: How do you see your Haverford education as influencing or preparing you for your work?
CV: Haverford taught me the importance of providing concise and insightful analysis, as well as the skills of clear reasoning and information synthesis. These skills have been very useful in my line of work, where I must analyze, propose and convince. Although the ethical education that Haverford dispensed shaped my way of being, I would give even more credit to my mother for the ethics and willpower that I have. Haverford gave me the opportunity to interact with very bright people, which is always a good thing. But my real luck has been in the form of my extraordinary supervisors, who shared their knowledge and taught me a lot about life.
HC: What did you do after graduating from Haverford?
CV: I worked on a farm in the Midwest and then on a race horse breeding farm for four years. I also did some bartending and teaching to earn money for graduate school. I attended graduate school for two years at UC Davis where I received a master’s in International Rural Development. I then looked for work and was offered a middle manager position at Mobil-France. At the same time I chose to Volunteer in Uganda for the WFP. I chose the latter and never regretted it.
HC: Do you think that individuals should be responsible for helping others?
CV: We are all responsible for taking care of ourselves so that we can help others if we wish. I believe that each person can make a difference in the world even if one helps only one person.
For example, if my team can provide a well managed school feeding programme, maybe a child who would not have come to school will decide to come, and become a good minister, doctor or runner. It is a tough and difficult world for billions, and we have a responsibility to do something, even if it is little, so that the world can be a better place.
HC: Can you relate a memorable moment that you had in Afghanistan or Kinshasa?
CV: I once made a trip to the Wakhan corridor in northeast Afghanistan, one of the most remote places in the world. It was an extraordinary trip since we met Khyrgiz nomads who came to meet us. The world is small and yet full of secrets and beauty. Recently, the team restarted a train which had not worked for 10 years (1,000 miles). When the train arrived at its destination, there was a party for days. We can do things which make a difference.
HC: What are some of your hobbies and interests?
CV: I used to play soccer and tennis for years but that stopped a couple of decades ago. I have been doing Ashtanga Yoga for the past year and a half, which I find not only enjoyable, but also relaxing, physically and mentally. I read a lot and enjoy free time with my fiancé who is with me in DRC working. I also enjoy traveling!