Calm amongst the chaos - Irina Mordvintseva

Irina Mordvintseva is a humanitarian aid worker with Save the Children, and an accomplished freediver.  She has taken some time out of her intriguing life to talk to us about her work with the humanitarian surge team, and her experiences with freediving and how it helps her to bring a sense of calm amongst the chaos.

Thank you for taking time to chat to us.  We're always looking to provide a platform from which inspiring women such as yourself can become known and appreciated.  Would you help our readers to get to know you and please tell us a little about yourself and your work with Save the Children:

I'm super happy to talk to you!  I was born in Russia, in a place far away from the ocean.  Any water you did find would turn to ice or snow in our very long Siberian winter. So I moved to France to study, and here I discovered my desire to work in the humanitarian field, and to travel to different countries where I can be useful.

I now work with Save the Children as part of the Humanitarian Surge Team. Save the Children is a non-government organisation that works to make a difference in the lives of children living in some of the most challenging humanitarian contests around the globe. I help to develop and to monitor our projects to ensure they meet the most important needs of the people affected.  We cover many different sectors - health, education, child protection, water and sanitation, food and livelihood support etc.

You have travelled to many places as part of your work. Your experiences must be numerous.  Would you be able to tell us about a couple of experiences that come to the forefront of your mind when thinking back on your time in these troubled areas, and why they resonate with you.

Working in both natural disaster zones and crisis/conflict situations, I can see how important it is to pay extreme attention to protect and preserve water.  Responding to Typhoon Haiyan (2013) in the Philippines and Tropical Cyclone Winston (2016) in Fiji, we had to rebuild schools, rehabilitate water and sanitation systems, and help people restart their livelihood activities such as farming and fishing.  Rising sea levels due to climate change makes island nations more vulnerable to storms and amplifies the impact of tropical cyclones making storm surge more violent.

In many countries, women and children have to walk long distances to collect water.  Then they must boil or purify the water with chlorine tablets to be able to drink it.  I worked in Yemen, Central Africa, Niger and Mozambique, and was deeply saddened by how many people cannot access drinking water.  This leads to innumerable risks - disease, children end up missing school in order to walk miles to collect water, and these children are exposed to different risks on their way to the water point.

You discovered freediving in the Philippines whilst on deployment there.  Freediving is a challenge for the body and the mind.  How do you think this sport helps you in your daily life, and especially to manage the emotional stress that must come with the work that you do?

When I discovered freediving, it became a whole new challenge for me - and a true love!  Freediving has taught me to remain calm and focussed in any situation, which is very important in my job.  It also helps me to be more resilient, to push my boundaries and to adapt to new contexts more easily.  I feel like diving in a single breath of air makes us closer to the ocean, as you are coming with no tricks or gear.  It helps you to see clearly what is there - deep inside the sea, and deep inside you.

I am always impatient to get back into the water for surfing or freediving.  When you spend so much time in the water you develop a very strong, lets call it 'relationship' with this environment.  I NEED to go back to the water!  Next trip will be Egypt, after my return from Iraq.

You are based in France.  When you return home to Paris what are your thoughts?  How do you settle back into 'normal' life?

It always takes a few days to become a "normal" person - for example not to be surprised when we have a hot shower, or not to over-react at thunderstorm or firework noises.  Also, to be able to walk the street without any restrictions is strange for the first few days.  i do a lot of yoga to smooth the transition and to evacuate stress from my deployments.  I am very happy to come home and see my family and friends, but truth be told, I start missing travel and my work very quickly.

Finally, we live in a culture of more, more, more.  It is very easy to turn a blind eye to the damage that is being done to our planet and those humans who are suffering daily.  In your opinion, how does this huge gap become bridged to allow sustainability, on all levels, in our world?

First, I think it is important to talk about it and to understand that our actions have a very important impact on our planet, which in its turn will have an impact on the most exposed countries.  Awareness is the first step towards action.  I also think that many people today are trying their best, doing small things - saving water, using less plastic, doing waste sorting, buying sustainable clothes etc.  I would love to have an immediate solution, but for now I think we should all just keep climbing our baby steps, which in time will surmount to a bigger impact.

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