Those of you who follow our blog regularly may have noticed that our previously prolific pace of posting has slackened considerably of late. This partly owes to other endeavors (studying Swahili, for example), partly to an expanding social life (it’s harder to find time to re-live one’s experiences when one is always out and about), but mostly to the fact that work has kept both of us extremely busy.
The week S got back from working with One by One in Eldoret, she received a mysterious phone call. All she could make out over the scratchy connection was that it was someone calling from Washington. At first, she thought it might be a website help desk that she had emailed, but after saying “what” over a dozen times she recognized the man’s name. Weeks prior, S had met with USAID (US Agency for International Development) and was told they were interested in having her work as a contractor on a new health initiative headed by Ambo. In the meeting, they had mentioned this man’s name and his contracting company as a mechanism they could use to hire S on a “purchase order.” The phone call came on a Thursday, the contract was signed the next day, and S started work the following Monday.
What exactly does S do? Mostly duties as assigned. The first week of work, she helped with a conference that publicly launched the new health initiative. As the weeks have gone on, she has written a cable, summary documents, and media campaign materials. For the most part, S works on designing programs for one of four thematic areas of the campaign – non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which is not an area on which development health currently focuses. While the government of Kenya does have a tobacco, diabetes, and cancer strategy, for example, it does not allocate significant resources to rolling out programs in this area. There have been some pilot projects in Kenya and other countries in the region as well as growing interest in the area, as shown by the recent UN high level meeting on NCDs, but for the most part this is like navigating uncharted waters.
Unfortunately, this position has not obviated S’s ongoing search for a full-time job. While the contract is valid for 3 months, it includes a stopgap at 6 weeks, which leaves some uncertainty as to how long S will be employed, whether this contract will be extended, or whether it will lead to more permanent employment with USAID. Spousal employment opportunities, or rather lack thereof, consistently tops the list of concerns for FSO families. It’s tough to be a highly-trained professional with perpetually uncertain prospects of gainful employment, let alone a meaningful career, which has led some FSO spouses to refer to themselves as STUDs (spouses traveling under duress).