Helen Mayelle

United Nations Development Programme, Sierra Leone (MSc International Development 2014)

My LSE degree could not have come at a more useful time, in the midst of the Ebola emergency in West Africa.

Helen Mayelle

Helen Mayelle
Helen Mayelle

Helen Mayelle is a passionate advocate for humanity, social, economic and political peace, security and development. Raised in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the National Resistance Movement rebel war in Uganda, Helen is a scholarship beneficiary and proud alumna of LSE's Programme for African Leadership (PfAL).

International Development at LSE

I felt that I wanted to be part of the paradigm shift where Africans – including especially Africa's women, girls and children – had more authentic, audible and articulate representatives in the various global decisions, making and influencing stages. I needed very good knowledge and skills for that and, thanks to my Programme for African Leadership scholarship at LSE, I was able to achieve a firm standing ground that launched me into the realities of my dream.

Ebola Emergency Response with Save the Children

It is my belief that people finding themselves in terrible circumstances ought to be supported to help them cope with and overcome their suffering. The completion of my MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies at LSE could not have come at a more useful time, in the midst of the Ebola emergency in West Africa. My LSE degree – in addition to the knowledge, skills and career guidance I received at the School – helped prepare me to operate in field contexts and reinforced my desire to work in the humanitarian sector.

The greatest challenge was the fact that the Ebola virus was "an elusive enemy". As my lecturer for the Managing Humanitarianism course said, "Ebola is much scarier than gun shots because you wouldn't know the direction from which the enemy attacked and when." That was indeed the scariest part of the job. This made it challenging to work in every way: for example, consider the principles of ABC (avoid body contact) while working closely with colleagues, partners and the affected community members.

The most rewarding aspect was contributing to the fight as part of the larger efforts, being there in person to witness the Ebola virus disease gradually recede, and seeing fewer cases and giving hope, no matter how slight. When the World Health Organization announced Sierra Leone and the three worst affected countries were Ebola-free it was a tremendous moment.

Humanitarian journalism training in South Sudan

I deployed to one of South Sudan's worst-hit areas in Unity State called Bentiu as a Humanitarian Journalism Trainer for the International Non-Governmental Organisation INTERNEWs network.

My role was to train a selected number of youths in order for them to be communicators in the internally displaced persons camps, known as Protection of Civillian camps (POCs). The youth started researching and producing local 'radio' programmes. The camp was so big that the project creatively used USBs to upload pre-produced audio messages, programmes mixed with entertainment inserted into boomboxes mounted on tri-cycle motorbikes which were then driven around the POCs and played in specific locations for the people. Feedback was relayed to the humanitarian aid providers and UN Agencies. We called the project BodoBoda TalkTalk (meaning the talk that comes off a motorbike) and it was so successful that funding was secured to transform the project into a full FM Radio station.

Head of Communications at the United Nations Development Programme

I took a short break from the field and I got a chance to go and study Children's Rights at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. As soon as I completed my MSc I returned to where it all started from - Sierra Leone! I just had to come back after all. I am now the Head of Communications at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sierra Leone. This country has come huge strides into development from when I was last here. My eyes welled up in tears to see life and livelihoods back to normal-beaches vibrant with youth, children going to school again, markets full of local produce and laughter from the women. It is a joy to see but at the back of my mind, I know that WE - all stakeholders involved, should not take their sights off from the fact that this beautiful and naturally rich country still lags in the bottom ten countries in the world with regards to development. WE must do our very best to remarkably achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for Sierra Leone and all other least developed countries of the world.

Read more

Alumni profiles - Helen Mayelle

Find out more about the Programme for African leadership (PfAL) scholarships