Post 13: Meet our African Expats!

14 February 2011

In MSF, we are thrown into situations that, in the short slice of time that we witness, seem quite bleak and often hopeless.  I am slowly understanding that this outlook results more because we automatically compare what we see to what we know, whether that is the comforts of home or previous international abodes.  We are usually not capable of comparing what we see to what we would have seen 2, 5 or 15 years ago, or what we might see 2, 5 or 15 years into the future.  These comparisons just may be a bit more uplifting.  While I can appreciate this intellectually, human instinct prevails and I have to consciously seek out sources of progress, of change and of hope, in order to keep positive.

One thing that always provides a source of hope is our African expats.  These are doctors, nurses, logisticians and administrators that have worked with MSF as national staff in their own countries.  After several years, they were hired as an expat, given much more responsibility and a managerial role, and sent off to other hot spots to work with the international MSF teams.

The profoundness of this didn’t strike us until we arrived in Chad and found ourselves surrounded by African expats.  Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Togo, Guinea…..our colleagues represent a chronology of conflict and humanitarian aid across this continent.

This wealth of African expertise and competency lies in stark contrast to what we see here in Chad.

Within MSF, Chad is known for “challenging HR”.  Among a litany of other grievances, the difficulty in finding qualified national staff plagues many of our projects.  Here in Am Timan, we struggle to run a hospital with a perpetual shortage of local doctors and midwives.  But what is a practical challenge for MSF is deeply troubling issue for the country as a whole.  A poor education system and lack of professional capacity does not bode well for the country’s future.

However, my expat African colleagues also come from troubled countries that have at one time or another gone through terrible conflict, periods of economic stagnation and regression, often cursed by corruption and plagued by poverty.  But, out of that have emerged these amazingly competent, professional, dedicated, and passionate individuals.  They bring to the team a deeper understanding not only of the tropical pathologies and parasites our Western medics have only seen in textbooks, but a deeper understanding of the cultures, psychologies and contexts that the majority of us are completely oblivious to.  They indeed enrich all aspects of our work, and of our own personal learning.

So what I see in Chad is not representative of all of Africa.  And what I see now is not representative of what I may see in the future.  There is in fact hope and the MSF African expats are only one of surely many many examples.   So let me introduce you to them!