Return to CAR

Brigitte returns to the Central African Republic...

Building local capacities through trainings has always been one of my favorite parts of working for MSF. Whether it is with a group of community health workers or local health care workers the impact is the paramount. Seeing the Oprah-proclaimed “Ah-ha moment” on the participants faces and the trainings being put into practice, knowing that a positive, enduring impact on the health outcomes of the population has been left behind is what gives me the energy and passion to continue this work every day.

I jumped on the opportunity to be on MSF’s Learning and Development flexibility pool. This department is responsible for preparing and delivering MSF-specific trainings in the field (traveling to missions in different countries and giving trainings to expatriates and national staff) and in Europe.

The first assignment that I accepted was to return to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, the country of my first mission. I was paired up with a fellow Canadian and we were to deliver a 6-day training specific to national staff regarding MSF; who we are, our history, where we work, about our resources and MSF as an association. The interesting part of this training is that the first component is delivered to 10-12 participants and they learn to deliver the content to another 30 colleagues and participants. The ultimate goal is to create MSF ambassadors to be able to talk to their families, colleagues, beneficiaries and other actors about MSF and the work we do.

Having completed two missions as an outreach nurse, I see how paramount it is to convey this information to communities and other actors to allow and improve access and acceptance in the areas in which we work.

My co-facilitator and I met up in Amsterdam, organized the course materials and travelled together to Bangui. Having never given an MSF training I was fairly anxious, but my co-facilitator had years of training experience and she put me at ease very quickly. It was also a nice coincidence that she had worked in my previous project upon my departure, so we got to bond over shared experiences and she updated me on the project and our previous colleagues!

We had the opportunity to work with 8 different future facilitators from 4 different MSF projects. Their profiles differed from assistant head of mission to local driver, some have previous experience giving trainings some never having had the chance but together in the training they were all learners and future facilitators. Seeing them interact, support each other and learn from one another was a real privilege.

The training is designed into modules with many interactive components from games to group work to tailor to many different learning styles, however, these methods are new to many national staff, a hurdle they had to overcome. They all took turns presenting in front of our small group, practicing the new delivery styles and learned from the feedback given from their fellow facilitators. It was a pleasure to be able to interact with the national staff in a different capacity. It was so interesting and a huge personal learning experience to be involved with MSF in a different capacity. Also, to be considered the “expert” coming from the head quarters was definitely a new experience!

The first 3.5 days flew by! Then it was show time for our 8 new facilitators. Their growth within that timeframe with the joint guidance of each other and us two “experts” was impressive. Once again, seeing them blossom from timid presenters to confident facilitators in front of 30 participants is a feeling I can only describe as immense pride. The opening address was done by the financial coordinator who opened the session with a wonderful song he wrote for the occasion and we all sang alone while he played his guitar. It definitely set the tone for the next few days of training.

We had a wonderful mix of participants from 3 different MSF sections, medics and logisticians, from a variety of projects (including two from my previous project!). The group was very animated, had wonderful discussions and insight into the world and view of MSF. It was evident that everyone had a great time participating by the huge smiles on their faces. It was an immense learning opportunity for all involved. The training was an overall success! At the end of the training certificates were given out by the head of mission and many pictures were taken to show their friends and families their accomplishments.

A particular highlight that was shared by participants was seeing how MSF does its fundraising. They watched a video of examples of everyday people organizing different events or donating in different ways. They got to put faces to the people who contribute to MSF and allow us to do what we do.  They were very recognizant and thankful to our many donors.

A personal highlight was having the opportunity to catch up with my previous “right-hand man” from my first mission. Having spent nearly every day working so closely with someone, developing a trusting and collaborative relationship and then having to say goodbye never knowing if you will have the opportunity to see each other again is one of the, if not the, most difficult aspects of an end of mission. When I knew that he would be a participant, I was beyond excited. We had the chance to have lunch together in a local restaurant and spent two hours reminiscing. I am so grateful to have had that special experience that so many expatriate staff do not have.

Something that I found very striking was that the same day the training ended we were dropped off at the base after the participants and I already saw some sharing what they had learned from the training and already being MSF ambassadors. It was absolutely amazing. People were approaching me asking me more questions and showed a genuine interest into the content of the modules.

Now it is up to our 8 new facilitators to go into their respective projects and continue to deliver the content of the modules. It will take time and commitment to learn all the content and effectively deliver the modules while they still have their daily responsibilities to complete. I am super lucky that I am now departing with 2 facilitators into a project for the next 2 months and I get to continue to support them and allow them opportunities to develop their facilitating skills and share their new found knowledge. This time I will be departing in a new rule, taking a break from my passion as outreach nurse replacing it with the title of nurse trainer. I will be responsible for developing and delivering trainings to local ministry of health and MSF staff working within MSF supported health structures. Building up their knowledge and skills to deliver effective and high quality health care to our beneficiaries. Stay tuned for updates regarding that new adventure…