Published: 00:01, 04 July 2014
From Singlewell to Afghanistan, a former Gravesend Grammar School girl has been awarded the MBE.
Cleo Blackman, strategy adviser at the Department for International Development (DFID) was given the honour for services to development in Helmand Province.
The 33-year-old former St John’s primary school pupil is currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a three-year assignment to develop a programme for women and girls.
Cleo said: “My mum actually opened the letter when it arrived because I was in Kinshasa and she thought it looked very important.
“It was a strange feeling because I have seen a few colleagues get honoured in the last few years and it always means more when you know just how hard they worked and exactly what they did to earn it.
“It is a very nice feeling to have my work recognised – particularly when I worked with lots of very talented and dedicated people, who all deserve an honour for doing what they do.
“Our effort was a team one and without their good company I don’t think I’d have survived long in that desert.”
Cleo has been a civil servant for the DFID since 2007 and went to Helmand on her first overseas posting in 2012.
She did two main jobs – deputy head of development and then strategy adviser – in the joint civil-military Provincial Reconstruction Team.
She said: “Initially I went for six months but ended up staying nearly two years because I loved the working environment and being out on the ground really seeing what our aid money is doing, and the impact it has on people who are not fortunate to have the same as us.
“My job was to manage an array of projects from building roads to rehabilitating clinics and schools and vocational training of young men and women, and make sure they were sustainable and good value for money.
“In the later months, my job involved a lot of collecting lessons, relationship building and capacity building (of local partners, the UN, the government) to make sure that when the international forces left there was a smooth transition to Afghan leadership.
“The closure of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in March this year was the climax of seven years’ hard work by lots of amazing people dedicated to reconstructing people’s lives in the wake of the conflict and making sure that Afghanistan’s people and systems had the skills and strengths necessary to continue to rebuild the country.”
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