Do you have a favourite assignment and why?
The first one is always special! I spent my first four months in South Sudan on an emergency project. The main activity was a 20-bed paediatric hospital inside the Wau camp for internally displaced people. The camp itself was guarded by UN Peacekeepers.
We also ran outreach activities across the frontline, supplying medicine, wage support and training to four ODP clinics as the government had stopped services to villages in ‘rebel’-held territory. After the UN agencies settled in Wau, we closed the project and I spent six weeks in Aweil to help with the malaria peak recruitment - the number of Aweil hospital beds increases from around 145 to close to 225 during the rainy season, so HR scales up accordingly. There were 100 locally hired staff and five international staff in Wau;, and around 380 locally hired staff and 20 international staff in Aweil. It was an interesting change in team dynamics, and I learnt a lot from the experience.
What has been your most challenging assignment?
I'd say my three months in Bangladesh 2017, responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis after they fled across the border after being persecuted by the authorities in Myanmar, was the most challenging assignment to date. I was part of the team taking over from the initial response. The logisticians and water and sanitation officers were flat-out on the tools, and quickly banged up three outpatient departments and a 50-bed paediatric hospital. The medical team was racking up to 900 consultations per day. We very quickly recruited 250 contract staff along with an additional 60 daily workers, and a 100 Rohingya people on an incentive system as technically they had no legal right to employment in Bangladesh. Virtually all the new staff either didn’t have access to or needed to open bank accounts, which meant a lot of time was spent preparing cash salary payments. Recruitment was tricky, the land of subsistence farmers was requisitioned to house the Rohingya. As such, they wanted first dibs on the higher paid, skilled positions, but unfortunately many lacked the required experience and qualifications. The country coordination team provided heaps of support from Dhaka which helped with the workload.
What have you learnt from working on MSF projects?
Patience! I love going on assignment because the eclectic mix of staff always provides a refreshing perspective. From negotiating with local bank managers to ensuring the bank holds sufficient physical cash to cover staff salary withdrawals, to on-the-job training and development of your team, the soft skills developed on assignment are very transferrable and usually prove valuable in any workplace.