Getting creative: Building a new generator from several broken ones

Holger Harnauf is a qualified car mechanic. In 2016 he spent six months on his first posting with MSF/Doctors Without Borders in the Central African Republic. One year later he’s back in Bangui and is blogging about his experiences...

Image shows Holger and the other mechanics enjoying a snack at the MSF auto workshop in Bangui, Central African Republic

Taking a break with my mechanic colleagues Blaise, Patrick and Merlin. Photo: Holger Hornauf / MSF

This week I’ve been training the two new mechanics that we hired last week.

For the rest of the team there is a lot of work to do: we’ve got two vehicles which were used for field work and are really broken. The first car alone is damaged in several places: splintered windshield, broken steering wheel, burst tyres…

The cars are often used in projects, where our teams are on the go, for example to treat patients in remote villages. There are several circumstances leading to cars breaking down like this. Often it’s the heavy strain due to bad roads or due to no roads at all. The weather can be a factor too and there can be accidents.

Image shows a very dented car

One of the broken cars. This one has been through a lot! Photo: Holger Hornauf / MSF

Pure muscle power

Our workshop is responsible for all the generators that the MSF teams use in the Central African Republic. Right now there are 17 ongoing projects in the country, and generators are important because they can be used for emergency electricity supply in any of them.

On Thursday we get a visit from our colleagues in one of the projects: they need a new generator as soon as possible. No problem for us!

We start building a new generator out of pieces from several broken ones. By the next day it’s done already and the generator is in our workshop ready to be picked up.

There’s just one problem: the transport. Those things weigh up to a tonne!

But our colleagues have thought of everything: immediately a bus arrives bringing ten workers. With pure muscle power they are able to pick up the generator and get it onto their pick-up truck – respect!

On the weekend I meet with a psychologist from Colombia who is working for an MSF project helping survivors of sexual abuse. We visit the “marché artisanal”. It’s a market offering handmade stuff like clothes and products made of wood. Back at home a logistician colleague is baking cookies – so naturally I’m right there!

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