Drums echoing through the Sunday morning air. Feeling a bit like a “Rockstar” as you drive through small villages where everyone waves and the children rush to the road yelling “halo halo” with huge grins on their faces. Warm greetings from fellow expatriates as they try to feel out the newest member of the team. The chalk-like chunks of manioc drying in the sun and the memories of the bitter aftertaste it leaves in your mouth. The constant and comforting hum of a generating. The realization that the so-called national highway is still nothing less than a glorified footpath.
These were some of my thoughts as I made my way back into the remote corner of the southern Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s true, I have been here before! From December 2008 to June 2009, I was working with Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF) and was based in the village of Shamwana, a long day’s drive away. As the project logistician, I was responsible for supporting the operations of a 60 bed-hospital and 6 surrounding health centers. I also kept a blog for those 6 months and, if you’re interested, you can find my archived entries on the MSF Canada webpage. (http://blogs.msf.org/granta/)
It’s different this time
Things are a bit different this time. I have a new position, a new program and even a new base. While I’ve returned to south DRC and am still proud to be working with MSF, this time I arrive as the Project Coordinator responsible for facilitating the handover of our operations in the “cité” of Dubie.
And our operations here are significant! The latest bed count in the hospital was 102 and includes the following services: maternity, pediatrics, surgery, nutrition (feeding center), emergency treatment, an intensive care unit, TB ward, an HIV treatment program and laboratory. Besides the hospital, we support 7 surrounding health centers and have extensive water and sanitation and mental health programs. To make it all happen, there are 9 expats, around 100 Congolese staff and at least another 100 Ministry of Health staff receiving incentives from MSF.
Wow…when you put it on paper, it really is A LOT for which I have just become directly responsible!! Managing operations of this size and diversity may seem fairly daunting, especially for a first time Project Coordinator. However, my role – at this time and in this project – is less about managing all of these different and complex services and more about facilitating the process of handover. My job is to make it the least painful as possible for the expatriate team, for the national staff we manage and, most importantly, for our patients and the communities were are all here to serve.
Since you’ve already found this site, I assume that you are interested in MSF and learning about our operations in the DRC. I hope that my writing will help you get a sense for what life is like working as an expat for MSF. As my overarching goal is the handover of operations to the Congolese Ministry of Health, I also hope you also gain a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding project handover, the true mandate of MSF and the ultimate gap left when emergency humanitarian relief organizations make the incredibly hard decision to leave.
I gave my first “Pré Avis” letters to staff this week and handover is scheduled for May 31, 2010. The coming 5 months promise to be full of challenge, intensity, disbelief and awe…and I would like to welcome you along for the ride!