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Working with the Sphere standards: An interview with World Vision’s Sajilu Kamwendo

Sajilu Kamwendo visits Buzi, Mozambique, in June 2019. Photo: courtesy of World Vision.


This month, Sphere met Sajilu Kamwendo, Director of Preparedness and Standards at World Vision International. He shared memories of how he first got to know Sphere and reflected on how standards are used by his organisation in all phases of humanitarian response. 

When did you first hear about the Sphere standards?

It was some 15 years ago. I was working in Monitoring & Evaluation at the time. As I started working with World Vision, one of the first things that was “thrown” in front of me was a copy of the Sphere Handbook. My manager said, ‘you need to be using this. I want you to read it, to understand it, then you’ll tell me what you’ve learned’. I can say Sphere has been part of my life at World Vision since the very beginning.

World Vision has been deeply involved in the latest Handbook revision. Staff from the organisation co-authored important parts on Food security, Urban settings and Civil-military coordination. Why was it a priority for World Vision to be part of the process?

When we respond to a crisis situation, our main focus is the affected population. We strive to give our best and provide a quality response. It’s part of our identity as a humanitarian organisation: we hold ourselves to the highest standards. Sphere is a very good framework for achieving that, so we wanted to contribute to the effort.

Have you browsed the new Sphere Handbook edition? What do you think about it?

It’s exciting. I’ve used the Sphere Handbook for a long time when I was working in the field, so I noticed the improvements – I think this edition is more accessible.

An important update is the inclusion of protracted crises as a key issue throughout the Handbook. World Vision has been active in some contexts for a really long time: Somalia, Sudan, Syria… We felt the need to rethink how assistance is provided in these situations, since we know that protracted crises are the “new normal” now. When we revised World Vision’s internal disaster management standards, we integrated references to protracted crises which align well with the Sphere standards.

How does World Vision work with the Sphere standards?

We refer to the Sphere standards in all program phases, including when planning, implementing and evaluating the impact of our operations. For instance, we use the Sphere standards when writing funding proposals. The donors themselves ask how we’ll ensure that the humanitarian assistance provided is of the highest quality that meets the standards. We reference Sphere to explain what kind of funding it will take to achieve those results.

When have you most recently witnessed the Sphere standards being applied to humanitarian response?

Just three weeks ago I was in Beira, in Mozambique, where we’re responding to the terrible damage caused by Cyclone Idai. One of the projects we run there focuses on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). We know, per the Sphere standards, that the communities affected by crisis must get access to a sufficient quantity of safe water for drinking, hygiene, and domestic needs; so our teams on the ground have been investing on piping and water purification  infrastructure to make sure people can have enough clean water, as close as possible. The standards guide us in doing that.

How do you respond to challenges in implementing the standards?

On some occasions, implementing the standards can indeed be challenging. In Uganda, where we’re supporting refugees fleeing South Sudan, our caseworkers’ capacity is often stretched, and we lack sufficient resources. We acknowledge that challenges exist and try to find innovative ways around them. In all cases, we maintain the Sphere standards as our reference and invest all possible resources to improve the quality of our work.