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Meet Rina, an Engineer with focus on people in need

I had the pleasure of meeting Agustina (Rina) Tnunay, AHA Centre Assistant Director, Preparedness & Response, over a nice chat online. We talked about leadership and the changes seen at the AHA Centre over the years – as Rina has been involved there since the early years.


Rina relates that she was an educated and practising Industrial Engineer when she first got involved in disaster response and humanitarian work. Born and raised on the island of Timor (on the half now called Timor-Leste), she lived through the crisis in 1999 and started working for the World Food Programme (WFP) as a logistics assistant. It has now been 21 years of humanitarian work and she still loves this job. “Working in the field helps us control ourselves and balance life”, Rina says and continues “supporting affected people and people in need gives perspectives on life and makes me thankful for what I have”. Rina explains that she realises that she doesn’t really have any real problems, compared to victims in crisis affected areas. She further develops her passion for her work by noting that she always maintains focus on the people that need help. Even when not on mission and working from the desk “humanitarian assistance in disaster emergency is what I love and this is the field I want to work with.”

Positive changes and lessons learned

The AHA Centre is 10 years old and has made a lot of progress since its start. Rina says some of the measures the Centre should continue to take include enhancing the member states’ resilience. Moreover, the AHA Centre should stand ready to support what member states need in a large scale or catastrophic natural disaster. It is also important to prepare a response plan and contingency plan as well as to work with coordination between countries and benefitting from lessons learned.

Rina joined the AHA Centre in 2014 when it was a young organisation. One of her greatest contributions has been to write the concept note for the ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan as one of the operational strategies to implement the vision of One ASEAN, One Response, which she explains emerged from the lessons learned from the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.  One of the lessons was lacking of coordination – everyone responded on their own and piecemeal rather than as part of a harmonised, common effort. “We used this as a lesson learned and to improve our future missions, that’s how One ASEAN, One Response came about” emphasises Rina, adding “it is rewarding to be able to see tangible results of my work and efforts”. 

Another aspect that has really improved is the Early Warning System (EWS). This was experienced recently during an earthquake in Indonesia. The capacities of the EWS made it possible to warn and evacuate people, and thus could save many lives.

Rina says it is important to continue to work on the mandate of AHA Centre, which is to respond to natural disasters and provide coordination, while also highlighting the importance of the national disaster management organisations (NDMOs) in leading the disaster response locally.

Leading by example

Rina’s diverse background as an engineer and with WFP has given her a flexible mind set and the knowledge and comfort in knowing that it is possible to tackle problems and find solutions in different ways, and with different perspectives. This is a value Rina highlights in her role as a leader.

“I try to be the way I am in life, also in my supervisory role. How I behave affects my co-workers. We are all humanitarians and we work under the leadership of the 10 ASEAN Member States’ NDMO. I believe my experience is my strength and I share it with my colleagues. We work and serve as humanitarians– the needs are found among the people.”

When asked about the role of women in humanitarian response, Rina acknowledges the importance of equal opportunities for men and women and the significant role an employer can have by demonstrating understanding of the need to combine family life with life in the field. “I have always been lucky to have (male) managers supporting me to have a balance in life, and this is something I also take with me in my work as a supervisor. I am trying to always provide a clear guidance and not a bossy style.”

 Agustina Tnunay smiling in front of the AHA centre logo

Photo: Private

Written by: Johanna Rixer, LACER Communication officer, The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB)