The moment the earthquake destroyed so many homes and lives in Haiti I, still new to the organisation, got to experience the essence of MSF. The news of the catastrophe reached us fast: communications were sent out from Head Quarters keeping us up to date on our colleagues that went missing, those that were miraculously rescued and those we lost. The shock and sadness were felt – also here in Africa. At the same time there was a wave of energy that went through the organisation: There is a catastrophe and we are there to help. We were amongst the first to be on the ground, amongst the few front liners most effective in delivering emergency aid. The emergency team -always on standby- went out straight away. Experienced MSF volunteers were pulled out of missions from all over the world and followed shortly after; a couple of hundreds volunteers to assist the local Haiti team to rebuilt their clinics and to offer support to those in most immediate need. It is hard, very hard, on the people working on the ground. At the same time the energy is felt: this is what we are all about. Delivering aid in the most extreme of circumstances is what MSF stands for, and it is this aspect of our work we all feel so very proud off!
Our life here in Zimbabwe is much different from that of our colleagues in Haiti. In Haiti volunteers sleep in tents, offices, share a shower with 20 and are faced with the most extreme of human suffering. Here in Harare we live in a comfortable house, we each have our own room, we share a shower with only three. The shops are well stocked again, in the evenings we go to one of the many restaurants or bars on offer or we play a game of tennis at the local sports club. Hence we don’t live the extremes that some of our colleagues have to live. Still, at a totally different level, the confrontation and hardship is all the same. On a daily basis we lose patients that are in our programme, every week my medical colleagues have to face little children die: malnourished, some HIV positive, some suffering from TB, pneumonia or other complications. The death rate is staggering here, and every Zimbabwean has to deal with it. The other day one of my Zimbabwean colleagues came back from leave. I asked him how his holidays had been. He said: “It was good, but I just wish I hadn’t had so many funerals to attend”. Every day staff members are off work to attend yet another funeral of an uncle, an aunt, cousins, sisters, parents… Having attended only 6 funerals in my life myself, I find it hard to imagine how one would deal with the loss of loved ones at such high frequency. Yet, the Zimbabweans are happy, are positive. There is no anger over all that happened, no bitter envy of those who live in better conditions. The resilience of the people here is impressive; a strength I much admire.