“Mama Federation!” A Red Cross staff member calls out to Cesarina Ayo as she enters the IFRC office in Juba, South Sudan. The staff member is met with Ayo’s warm, bright smile and an outreached hand.
Ayo never thought she would be working for one organization this long. For 26 years, she has woken up to her daily tasks at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), with a mission to eliminate the suffering of people impacted by conflict and natural disasters in South Sudan. Having been with the organization so long, she is now nicknamed: “Mama Federation” – Mother of the Federation.
“Its mind-fulfilling and mind-blowing,” she says one April afternoon in her office.
“To help refugees, displaced people and persons affected by diseases is something I want to do forever.”
Witnessing the formation of a new Red Cross
Ayo, a South Sudan national, has witnessed the transformation of her country and the Red Cross over the years, having started in June 1992 when the new IFRC office had opened following a surging number of displaced people who needed humanitarian assistance in, what was previously, Sudan.
After South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, Ayo took part in the formation of the “South Sudan Red Cross Society”, which is one of the newest members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement.
Experiences passed on
Her own struggles have allowed her to support others in need, having had to flee her home to neighboring Uganda where she became a refugee due to the conflict that remains to this day.
Born in 1953, Ayo was taught by Italian missionary schools in South Sudan and Uganda. In her final year, she began teaching in refugee camps in Uganda. When she went back to South Sudan, she took clerical training at the Multi-service Training College in Juba. She held several positions with the Government and various NGOs. In June 1992, she joined IFRC.
“All through, I knew I wanted to work in a place where I could help people in need. It satisfies me a lot,” she adds.
Ayo’s time at IFRC is coming to an end but colleagues think otherwise.
“Based on her golden experiences with human resources and administration, my wish is for her to stay and help share her experiences with other Red Cross Societies. She is incredible,” says Dorothy Muthuri, Regional Human Resources Manager with IFRC Africa.
When asked what advice Ayo would give to others globally in the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, she said without hesitation: “The best thing for those who have just joined or want to join the Red Cross – is to just do your best, do your work and see the difference.”
A lifelong commitment to humanitarian work
Although Ayo, mother of four, may leave Red Cross soon, she has no plans to slow down. She is returning to her origins of teaching. She has plans underway to build a kindergarten school to ensure young children in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, receive a quality education.
However, Red Cross remains in her blood.
“Once a Red Crosser, always a Red Crosser,” she says with a laugh. “This is my home and family and I will always be ready.”
As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, we also celebrate “Mama Federation” – a woman who has helped form Red Cross into what it is today, dedicating her time and energy to making sure people in need are cared for.
Written and reported by Osman Mohamed Osman, IFRC
Edits and photos by Corrie Butler, IFRC
IFRC, ICRC and its Red Cross partners are supporting the South Sudan Red Cross in responding to the critical needs of the most vulnerable across South Sudan. Learn more here