Post 16: Congolese Courage

17 March 2011

Guillaume is one of five Congolese expats currently working in our Chad program – two doctors, two nurses and our interim Medical Coordinator.  Like the Canadians, the Congolese easily outnumber any other nationality here.  Unlike the Canadians, however,  these stats results only because MSF has had a long, expansive history in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, responding to waves of conflict in far-flung corners of the vast country.  The Congo has long claimed MSF’s largest presence in any country.   The upside is that MSF has had the opportunity to recruit, train and expatriate numerous highly competent, French-speaking doctors and nurses, to the benefit of many other missions.


Guillaume (left) and fellow Congolese doctor, both receiving Chadian soccer outfits in the Am Timan Christmas gift exchange

Guillaume was privy to much of what has justified MSF’s presence in eastern Congo.  He is from South Kivu province, which borders with Rwanda and is home to the continuing aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  In the chaotic years that followed, Congolese villages were attacked by rebel groups, child soldiers recruited and women raped, causing much of the population to flee into the forests.  They eventually organized themselves into militia groups to defend their villages, but also used the pretense of self defense to commit rampant banditry and further terrorize each other.

Guillaume himself walked 900km in 20 days to escape the first attack on his city in 1996.    After returning home to looted property and destroyed neighborhoods, the residents vowed never again to leave.  In 2004, the city was again controlled by rebels for several weeks and Guillaume’s own home unsuccessfully attacked.  Blocks of houses were surrounded by rebels and everyone within systematically raped.  As a doctor, he was working in an HIV clinic and counseled those same rape victims who showed up in his clinic for testing.   Some of them, his neighbors.

Guillaume began with MSF in 2005 as a consulting doctor in a 3000-patient HIV project , worked his way up through the Supervisor and Medical Team Leader positions and ultimately became the Assistant Medical Coordinator in 2009.  Having already assumed many of the responsibilities normally given to an expat, he was a likely candidate for expatriation and, in 2010, he completed all the necessary steps.  He joined the Am Timan project in Chad in October as a medical doctor.  As the “first missioner” status is obviously in theory only, his experience and expertise has quickly cast him into the role of Medical Team Leader and among other things, he is overseeing the development of our own TB/HIV program.

What Guillaume likes most about working for MSF is that the priority is on quality of care and availability of resources for the patient.  After this mission, he would like to gain further MSF field experience in a large TB/HIV project, and then aspires to future posts as a Medical Coordinator.  If MSF is lucky, he might just be a lifer!


Guillaume doing rounds in the Am Timan pediatrics ward