By Richard M Kavuma
Veronica Akiding vividly recalls the questions her children asked, when they learnt that she was leaving them to work in another country.
Her eldest daughter, now six years, protested having to go to boarding school, but relented on the premise that Mummy had to work for the family, and that Mummy would buy that fancy bike.
Little Armour, barely 18 months old, did not seem to understand what his mother was saying.
“Mama,” he said, innocently smiling and sucking his thumb.
It was four-year-old Austin who put up the biggest fight.
“Mummy, why do you want to go to that country?”
“Because I need to work for our family,” Veronica said.
“And when you go will you come back?”
“Yes, of course, I will be coming to visit you.”
“Will you go with Daddy?”
“No, Daddy will stay to take care of you.”
“You don’t want to go with us? Can you go with us?”
“No. Children are not allowed there.”
As you can imagine, this was not the easiest of conversations. But after two years as an operations assistant at IOM Uganda, Veronica had already had the more difficult conversation with herself, and decided to take up an international position. The offer had come from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), where she is now a Movement Control Assistant.
“When they first contacted me, they made it clear they wanted someone to fill the position immediately. But I told them I would only be available in three months’ time and I thought they would go for someone else,” says Veronica who was born and had her primary and O-level education in the eastern district of Soroti. “But I was surprised when they came back to me and said they were willing to wait.”
That is when she knew that the dream to work with IOM had given birth to something else.
Veronica had learnt about IOM during her first job as a check-in assistant with Entebbe Handling Services ENHAS. Back then, she had felt that IOM was an organization she would “love to work for”. By the time IOM advertised for an Operations Assistant in 2016, she had already added a diplomat in Tours and Travel to her first degree in Conservation Biology.
“I felt I had the qualifications they wanted, but I was not sure if I would get the job.”
She got it. And, she says, she loved it.
“I was very glad. I was very excited, working here, surrounded by all these great people. I tried my best to get used to the demands of the new job. I never knew that I would end up here. It was a great opportunity.”
As an operations assistant, Veronica had routines such as arranging visas and plane tickets for refugees to be resettled to third countries, as well as following up to ensure that they were ready to travel. She was often there to share in their excitement when their travel was confirmed – or their frustration when they were told to wait.
As she leaves IOM, I ask Veronica what her abiding memory will be.
“The family,” she says instantly. “Being part of the family that IOM and having support from everybody. Here you know that whatever challenge you may have, everybody is willing to help,” says Veronica.
Joining the international circuit would be a dream for many Ugandans. I ask Veronica how it happened for her. She says that in 2013, while at ENHAS, she had registered to work as a UN Volunteer and she had kept her profile updated, with new courses and skills. Five years later, the call came – from Mali.
Reflecting on her own journey from studying conservation biology to working in airport handling, and then the UN Migration agency and now in Mali, Veronica reiterates her faith in effort, perseverance and merit.
“You don’t need a backdoor to pursue your career. As long as you are determined, and you are committed to it, you pursue it, you will get it. You don’t need to know somebody, but somebody will definitely know you.”
Since that phone call interview with MINUSMA in June this year, Veronica knew it was now down to her, the children and her husband Patrick.
“Patrick has supported me so much,” Veronica says. “He said: ‘you can go I will stay with the children. You go, for the betterment of the family, because it is a very competitive world’.”