The old stone building housing the MSF headquarters in Geneva is a constant hubbub and fury of activity. Information and people seem to move at rapid speed, with seemingly incredible purpose and motivation. During my first visit to the headquarters a number of years ago, I instantly became enamoured by the energy of the place, and the endless passion which seemed to emanate from everyone working there. Ever since that first briefing in Geneva, every visit to the headquarters fills me with an excitement and a belief that change is actually happening in this world, and that ‘we’ are all working together towards a common goal.
Chad will be my 5th mission with MSF. However; regardless of the number of missions I have done, I still have trepidations before setting off. Prior to every mission I question my abilities and my capacities. I wonder about my energy levels. I ponder whether I will connect with the team and the community. I worry whether I will find motivation and purpose. Briefings at headquarters, even if they fill me with energy and excitement, do little to relieve my concerns – I now know arriving in the field, meeting the team and actually seeing the project is the best prescription for clarification.
Still buzzing with headquarter-induced energy, I boarded the flight to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. While reading a newspaper on the plane, I saw an advertisement for a European conference entitled, ‘The Promise of Africa’. I was intrigued. What does that mean? Does ‘Africa’ promise something, or was ‘Africa’ promised to someone? If so, to who and by who? The next line stated it was a conference where, ‘we focus on the promise of Africa, exploring its potential’. I imagined the phrase stopped there, and thought of all of the potential I have seen in the African countries I have worked in. I thought of the inspiring people I have met and worked with, who aspired to make change in their countries, change to the systems and policies that had failed them for so long.
I thought of Magaria, Niger, and the community health project where the villagers had enthusiastically embraced the concept that they were responsible for the health of their people. I thought of the Brown Bread Revolution baker, who was working to make change one loaf of bread at a time.
Then I read the end of the phrase, ‘Exploring its potential as a producer and consumer of luxury goods’… ’how can long established luxury brands remain relevant to a new generations of consumers?’. And with that, the excitement and optimism from the headquarters came face to face with another reality. Every mission so far has shown me how much more work there is to be done – on every level – in the field, in national and international government offices, and within ourselves – and this advertisement was simply a reminder of all of that.
As I sat pondering about the potential for change, the man next to me introduced himself. He was Chadian, and just returning from a conference in Paris. ‘What type of conference’ I asked, fearing a discussion based around luxury goods and the promise of Africa. Bread. He was returning from a BREAD CONFERENCE. His family runs bakeries in Chad and imports flour into the country. I asked the colour of bread he makes… white. When I told him I worked for MSF, he replied, ‘MSF has done so much for our country. I always wonder how I could every repay them, but I am just a baker’. I felt like I was in a movie. The moment was perfect. The discussion began…
And with that interaction, I knew I was in the right place. Change will come. One loaf of bread at a time.