On a 7 hour car ride straight north into the expanding reaches of the Sahel desert, I try in vain to snooze in the back seat. Every now and then, I open my eyes to the marvels of a camel caravan as it crosses the sea of sand, methodically and purposefully. Both the method and the purpose are lost on me and leave me in awe.
Kodjo sits in the front seat, staring out at the same sand dunes. However, while I am in and out of awestruck slumber, he is mentally elaborating a project proposal to turn our little nutrition tent in the desert into a fully functioning, secondary healthcare project, complete with a hand-over strategy for the end of the 2-year project period. A full proposal is at headquarters in Berlin by the time Kodjo goes to bed.
He warns the team that the plan may not be approved by headquarters….but everyone knows the power of both his conviction and his persuasion. We collectively dismiss his caution while digesting the implications for both our personal work load and the impact of the project on the neglected population it aims to serve.
In the past 6 months, our MSF team has completed 2 emergency nutrition projects, 2 emergency cholera interventions, and an emergency meningitis vaccination campaign, as well as the development and expansion of 3 longer-term primary and secondary health projects, and the closure of a remotely operated project in the more perilous east. The expat team has swollen at one point to over 40 people and the total 2011 budget tops out at over 5 million Euros….and growing.
And the man behind it all…Dr. Kodjo D Edoh, Head of Mission for Chad.
Kodjo (right) with the president of the MSF International Association, addressing national staff at the annual Field Associate Debate.
Kodjo is from Togo (between Ghana and Benin, if that helps you at all) and was working as a General Practitioner in the public health sector in mid 90s; a time when healthcare was fully subsidized and free for all. However, the Togolese healthcare system was not spared from the wave of neo-liberal economic policies that swept through parts of Africa, slashing social programs and implementing user-pay systems. He now had to charge his patients for what used to be free care, and refuse those who could not pay.
Unable to rectify these economic constraints with his moral medical obligations, he left Togo to pursue a Masters Degree in Hospital Administration, in New York, with an eye to future employment in the UN or WHO. An MSF flyer in his mailbox successfully tempted him to take a break from his studies; a 6 month stint in Uganda to boost his resume and serve as a stepping stone to the both noble and well-paid positions of the international health organizations.
8 years later, he is still in the field with MSF and now uses his position as Head of Mission to lobby those same UN agencies he once aspired to – pressuring them to respond to the needs he sees in the field.
To call him ambitious, passionate and inspirational would be a hat-trick of an understatement. He says his role as Head of Mission is to inspire his team and indeed any meeting you have with him leaves you feeling excited; like an important piece of something much greater than yourself. He also says that MSF’s greatest asset is passion; the passion of its people. This is what defines us and allows us to achieve anything that we achieve. As for ambition, what he likes most about MSF is that anything is possible. Strategies, projects and programs are all driven by the people on the ground and based on the needs that they see.
So with all that at the helm, we will just see what happens to our little nutrition tent in the desert.