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‘Risk averse’ Scot works in a nation with a deadly record

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THE HERALD 03 MAR 2020

Now Anna Salvarli is living in a shipping container in South Sudan, helping the nation recover from a brutal civil war that has killed an estimated 383,000 people and seen another four million flee their homes.

The Scot’s friends and family are astounded she has ended up living in the world’s most dangerous country for aid workers.

South Sudan has the highest number of attacks on aid workers, including hostage takings, according to the 2019 Aid Worker Security report by research group Humanitarian Outcomes.

A total of 115 aid workers have been killed there since the outbreak of violence in December 2013.

Ms Salvarli, 28, from Appin, near Oban, admits those close to her have been taken aback by her choice of job.

“My parents found it amusing that I wanted to work in South Sudan because I am the kind of person that I won’t do certain sports, like shinty or hockey, because I think it’s too dangerous,” she said.

“It is funny that even out cycling with my mum, I’ll be like ‘I need to stop here. That is too steep a hill’ and she is just looking at me going ‘You work in South Sudan. How can you be scared of a hill?’.

“My mum knows that I’m generally quite a risk averse person and not gung-ho in any way, so I think that helps her not worry about me too much.”

She added: “I’ve always wanted to do humanitarian work. On my primary school report when I left for high school, my headteacher wrote something like ‘I look forward to Anna working for the UN one day’.

“I’ve been to cities like Singapore and Sydney thinking ‘I’d love to live here’ but I cannot imagine a single job that I could feel interested enough in. “So, whilst here in South Sudan, some weekends kind of suck, I’m spending most of my waking hours working and loving my job.”

South Sudan is suffering the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis – with nearly four million people displaced and more than six million people facing acute food insecurity.

Devastating flooding at the end of 2019 has weakened an already vulnerable population and, combined with fighting and humanitarian access issues, there is a risk of famine in some areas.

Last week, however, the region opened a new chapter in its fragile emergence from civil war as rival leaders formed a coalition government.

She has been living in Bentiu – one of the worst-hit areas of the civil war. Her role sees her travelling to offer assistance to displaced people living mainly outside of the camps.

As well as being constantly vigilant against the threat of violence, she was rushed to a hospital in the capital, Juba, last year after falling ill with suspected malaria.

Ms Salvarli explained: “I looked grey for about a week and had the interesting experience of being medevaced. It turned out it was just flu.

“South Sudan’s a funny place for someone like me to live because I am a bit of a hypochondriac. I was always worried about getting sick when I was in the UK, so my mum laughs about me now.”

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “UK aid is saving and transforming lives in South Sudan, thanks to support from the British people and incredible people like Anna.

“We are providing emergency aid, as well as helping to deliver healthcare and education.

“I am so proud of those like Anna who are taking on huge personal risk to help make a difference in the country.”

Ms Salvari said that she wished her friends in Scotland could see what she sees every day.

“The levels of poverty are staggering,” she said.

“You see people walk for two days just to get food and that’s part of what they do every month.

“Most of the remote locations that we go to, a school is a teacher, who is a volunteer, teaching under a tree, with children sitting around on the ground.

“I’ve been to some locations where there was a ‘school building’ and it’s four walls – nothing else. There’s not even a roof. The teachers will say, ‘When it rains, it is difficult’, and I’m thinking, ‘Of course, it’s difficult. You don’t have a roof’.” 

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