When I left Paris on April 30, all I knew was that I was leaving for a vaccination campaign against measles in the area of health Malemba Nkulu somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I had followed the “Preparation for First Departure Admin” (PPDA) a few weeks ago, all the recommendations and instructions were still relatively fresh, and I was excited at the thought of setting foot on the African continent for the first time. Even the endless waiting at the airport in Addis Ababa after a night on the plane did not shake my motivation.
All I knew was I was heading to Malemba Nkulu to work on a vaccination campaign against measles in an area where the disease is devastating. I knew nothing of DRC, much less anything about Malemba. As for measles, I knew I had been vaccinated when I was little, but nothing more.
After a few days at the coordination base in Lubumbashi, I travelled under a blazing sun, on a dirt track, to Malemba. Red sand roads that delineate red plots. Small brown houses and still green hedges, a few goats grazing quietly, not accustomed to seeing cars passing. And the sky. So blue. So huge. And, in terms of the climate, the first days are hot! Very hot!
But no time for sightseeing. I was immediately immersed in the preparation of the vaccination campaign, which is already underway! The MSF team has already been working here for almost three weeks on the treatment of measles cases. Preparation includes obtaining authorization for use of vaccines, selecting and validating vaccination sites, training teams, storing ice packs . . . everyone is active in every corner. Besides that, our hospital also runs at full speed. The measles epidemic is highly virulent, and the hospital must increase the number of beds, recruit teams . . . The days pass at breakneck speed!
As a welcome gift, I get a whole bunch of bills to be processed. And no time to lose: in addition to the implementation of accounting, it is necessary to organize the recruitment of nearly 50 people for varied positions as nurses, orderlies, cooks, custodians . . . I already had the opportunity to recruit staff in my other life, but now must conduct interviews at no charge! In four days, I amass more than 500 applications, pre-select nearly 100 candidates, make tests, and validate the selected few. Then I begin contract signings, collate personnel records of the new recruits, collect birth certificates, the list is endless . . . I discover that the Congolese administration is fond of all kinds of papers and my copier is running at full speed!
Meanwhile, my assistant, Papa John, keeps the accounts with a master hand! All current expenses pass through his hands and every evening we take stock to see if we have enough cash for the coming days. Gradually we find our stride. But not for long!