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» 01 Jan 2008

His Work         
Andy Neill works as a consultant for a Finnish Consultancy Group. Assigned to Mauritius since January 2006, Andy provides advice     and technical support to the Government to manage and implement a large, EC supported intervention, known as the Decentralised Cooperation Programme (DCP).The objective of which is to alleviate poverty, largely through building the capacity of non-state actors, such as NGOs and other civil organizations. The DCP offers grants to local NGOs in their combat against poverty. It also focuses on the development of Small and Medium Enterprises, in order to generate employment; the promotion of good governance; and more sustainable management of natural resources on the island of Rodrigues. It is a diverse and complex portfolio involving many other actors.         

Andy points out that there are as many definitions of poverty as there are poor people.Add to this a list the definitions provided by experts and it soon becomes clear   that poverty is a complex, multidimensional problem that is context specific. "Mauritius is an upper middle income country, so it does not face the same problems
as the Least Developed Countries. Here it is less a question of absolute poverty and more one of relative poverty.The country has a well deserved reputation as a beautiful, up marketm holiday destination, and this sector of the economy is significant in the generation of national income. However, there are many local NGOs working hard to improve the lives of many, and their efforts should be acknowledged and supported" elucidates Andy.

His debut

Andy moved to Scotland when he was19 to study Town and Regional Planning at the University of Dundee, confident in his belief that a degree in Town Planning will someday provide him with the opportunity "to develop some fantastic new capital city in an exotic location! In reality, planning graduates get jobs with local authorities, processing planning applications for domestic garages, advertisement boards and other not so interesting things for the first few years!" admits Andy.The tenacious and passionate person    that he is did not give up and appropriately so since 5 years later he was supporting a rural development
program in the Gambia.

 Although Andy concedes that when he arrived there to experience temperatures of 50 degrees centigrade he did wonder whether or not he had made the right decision in giving up his "safe job" in the UK. In this heat neither could the town generator work nor could the water supply! He soon learnt the local coping strategies such as storing his candles in a bucket of water so they do not melt in the heat and sleeping outside at night. His career took a leap after he accepted a 2 year position as a Technical Adviser with the EC Support Programme, following which he was posted to other African countries such as Tanzania, Malawi, Namibia, and now Mauritius. In the meantime he completed an MA (Econ) in Development Administration and Management at the University of Manchester further consolidating his career as a Development Consultant.

His Family
Andy and his gorgeous wifeKenna live on the west coast of     Mauritius with their three children Ismaila 14, Monica 9, and 'baby' Tumi 2 and a half.The couple first met in the Gambia and though Kenna was born in the same town to which Andy was posted during his first Gambian assignment, she had migrated to Nigeria with her parents at the age of 3. Andy had been in The Gambia for about a year when she returned 'home', to rediscover her country of birth.As fate would have it they were neighbours who became friends and then a couple.They tied the knot in Tanzania and Andy recalls funnily how the official, after reminding them of the seriousness of the institution of marriage went on to ask him what type of marriage he wanted. He apparently had 3 options a monogamous, a polygamous, or a potentially polygamous marriage contract!

Each of their children was born in a different country - Ismaila is Nigerian, Monica Gambian, and Tumi Namibian. The couple observes that the experience of living in different countries has had a very positive effect on their children. "They tend to be very tolerant and indulgent towards different cultures and have
a very rounded outlook on life." Their youngest daughter's language is "an eclectic mix of English, French and Creole.We love her rendition of 'baa baa mouton'! Every year the family gathers at their family home in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland for a big family Christmas. Andy reminisces how one year when Monica was drawing a very nice festive picture, someone asked her what it was, and she confirmed that it
was Santa Claus and his antelopes!

Having lived in different parts of Africa,Andy has some remarkable experiences to share. He reckons that the first out of the ordinary thing he did in Gambia was to borrow a fisherman's dug out canoe and paddle down the River Gambia with a Peace Corps friend for a week. "A family of hippo followed us for 2 days and every piece of wood floating on the water looked like a crocodile! In Tanzania we had many incredible safari experiences. Once we ventured into the Salou, probably the largest wilderness expanse in Africa.There were no tracks - just bush. But we had armed guides to look after us.This was very reassuring until one night, around the campfire and after a few beers, our guardians confessed to only having one bullet each!" recounts Andy.

Fortunately his family shares his sense of adventure, his love of traveling and the great outdoors. Together they have taken several special road trips and camped in remarkable places.The ones that stand the out most are driving through the Namibian dessert and up the Skeleton coast in Namibia; camping in South Luangwa in Zambia, surrounded by wild animals; visiting Victoria Falls; driving up steep, winding roads in Malawi; crossing over the Rift Valley to get to the amazing Lake Malawi and touring around South Africa in a campervan.

 Andy elucidates that his philosophy in life is to value the right of all individuals, irrespective of race, nationality, religion, gender or ability, to a decent and happy life. "We must first protect the rights of individuals, and then create opportunities to fulfill them. This outlook of course is very similar to the objectives of my professional life, and I encourage my children to share these kinds of universal values" explains Andy.

 At present the Neill family is thoroughly enjoying living in Mauritius. "It is a safe, pleasant country to live in. The level of services, particularly in the education sector, is relatively high and the infrastructure is good. It took around 6 months to feel settled.Now we seem to have everything under control and have made many good friends, both Mauritians and expatriates." Andy points out that Mauritius being such a great holiday destination means that there are quite a few interesting activities to do.The family enjoys taking their overseas friends and visiting relatives on catamaran trips along the West and North coasts although there is nothing they enjoy more than going to the local beach at the weekend with a group of friends for a picnic or BBQ. Andy has probably grasped the quintessence of a happy life…simplicity, a close knit family and a job that changes the lives of many for the better.

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