1969 to 1972
Since she completed college in Matamata, Ailsa has had the privilege of a rich and varied experience in the fields of health, humanitarian assistance and higher education. In New Zealand, her health-related work involved working in Thames and Palmerston North Hospitals, as well as a public health nurse in Pukekohe. A long-standing interest of living in developing countries led Ailsa to Thailand in the 1980s, where she worked as a public health nurse in Khao I Dang refugee camp near the Cambodian border, and then as public health/nutrition advisor with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok. Further public health/nutrition assignments took her to Bataan refugee transit centre (Philippines) and Geneva to carry out specialist consultancies for UNHCR and the World Health Organisation (WHO). These were followed in the late 1980s by public health assignments for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sudan and Namibia.
Ailsa’s involvement in international humanitarian assistance included a UNHCR assignment in 1991 to Sulaimaniya on Iraq’s north-eastern border with Iran. A year later, she relocated to Harare (Zimbabwe) to work as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’s regional disaster preparedness delegate.
After four years in Harare, Ailsa moved to Cape Town, where she established a university-based research and capacity-building unit, the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DiMP). This provided a platform for taking forward continental disaster risk management capacity building efforts – now reflected in a ten-university consortium from ‘Algiers to Antananarivo’ called ‘Periperi U’ that offers a suite of academic and applied courses to address African disasters and risks.
Along the way, she has been fortunate to complete a BA Soc. Sci. at Massey University, an MA at the University of Washington (Seattle) and DrPH (Public Health) at UCLA. Ailsa’s professional interest in disasters and emergencies is also reflected in her personal life. These include a night-time Iraqi taxi crash in the Jordanian desert that led to multiple fractures and medical evacuation to Geneva, an implausible ‘accidental’ intravenous infusion of tap-water while in Seattle and a brutal, but successful, cancer treatment course at Waikato Hospital.
She has been fortunate to have had the wonderful support of family and friends from her childhood in Matamata, and has an eighteen-year old daughter, Chloe, who is an avid fashion blogger.