Search

From Gravesend to Helmand: Cleo Blackman’s story

09:00 03 August 2012

Cleo Blackman in Helmand

Cleo Blackman in Helmand

Archant

It is hard to believe that when I speak to Cleo Blackman on a perfectly clear phone line she is standing in blistering 40 degrees heat within a military base in Afghanistan where life is unimaginably different to England.

Cleo Blackman with International Development sec Andrew MitchellCleo Blackman with International Development sec Andrew Mitchell

The former Gravesend Grammar School pupil is spending a year in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, where she is co-ordinating aid projects to build infrastructure such as schools, health clinics and roads.

The 31-year-old works for the Department for International Development (DfID) and this is her first posting abroad – and it is very moving.

“It is an emotional job. It is an intense environment and you get personally involved.

“It is very easy in London to not get a real idea of the impact you are making.

“But having seen the pictures from 2009 with no people in the bazaar it is amazing to then see people now going about their lives.

“I recently went out to a health clinic where they now have six local midwives who delivered 49 babies this last month. That wasn’t possible the month before,” she said.

The risks of working in a war-torn country are obvious, but Cleo is level-headed.

She said: “I don’t feel unsafe here. I think we are very well protected. We always wear body armour when we go out and about in the town. The fact that we are able to run development projects here speaks volumes.

“As a civilian working in a military environment you really understand that the army are out there on the front line. It is an amazing thing to do.

“When you hear of a casualty it is always somebody that someone you work with knows. Everyone really pulls together and it makes you more determined to carry on so that it is not in vain.”

Her brother Matthew, 29, is also abroad – he is in the navy and is based in the Gulf.

With both their children away in volatile areas, how do her parents cope back in Gravesend?

“They were a bit worried but my mum and dad are proud of everything we do. With things like Skype and Facebook it is really easy to keep in touch.”

She is also 3,500 miles apart from her boyfriend, Andrew, also 31, who she shares a flat with her in South London and who also works for DfID.

Every couple of months she is able to make the three-day journey back to the UK.

“It rams home how lucky we are to have everything we do and the basic freedom we take for granted, and then you come back to Helmand knowing how important it is that these people have those same rights.”

We end our call and Cleo goes off to teach her first yoga class to a group of soldiers and civilians, offering a moment of tranquillity within the insecurities of war.

0 comments

Latest News

37 minutes ago

Police responded to a call alerting them to suspicious behaviour

11:57
The businesses plan to redevelop redundant land

The companies plan to push ahead with the redevelopment of vacant land

09:38
Southeastern and Southern have been ranked as the worst in the country for customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction was the lowest in the country

Yesterday, 14:57
Dreamland, Margate. Credit: Visit Kent

Photographs will form the backbone of a major summer advertising campaign in and around London

Yesterday, 14:06

The robbery was reported earlier today

Most read

Competitions

Copyright: Erich Spiegelhalter/Schwarzwald

Embark on a three day round trip (including flights) during which you will taste local specialities such as the famous Black Forest Gateau, discover nature, absorb vibrant city culture, learn about technological innovations, indulge yourself in the plentiful wellness spas, take some shots on the golf course, and enjoy family fun at Germany’s largest theme park.

£15k prize bundle

Imagine having the opportunity to win an incredible £15,000 bundle of some of the most amazing prizes available. Well, for one lucky contest entrant that dream could soon become a reality because we at MyOffers are offering an incredible free prize bundle that will make even the most hardened person wild with excitement.

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Gravesend Reporter e-edition today E-edition

Newsletter Sign Up

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Family Notices 24

Local business directory

Our trusted business finder