It isn’t easy getting from Cape Town in South Africa to the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
To do so means spending a lot of time in airports: Cape Town to Johannesburg, then to Zurich, Brussels and finally, Islamabad. The rest of the way is by rough road and only with the permission of the military at several checkpoints.
But this is not just a journey of distance and time, it is also one of mindset. To work for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) – as I will be doing here for the next 6 months – is to agree to represent an organisation that aims to reach out to those in need in some of the most challenging and complex environments on earth. It means to adopt a code of impartiality, advocacy and the giving of assistance irrespective of race, gender or political/religious ideology.
I am an emergency room doctor and I arrived here to join a team of doctors, nurses and support personal currently bolstering the standard of healthcare in a region that has suffered a great deal in recent years. In the week since we stepped into the exhausting 50 oCelsius (122 F) heat, it has become very clear to me that the needs of the people here are great.
As an international organisation that has its origins in the western world, it has not been easy for MSF to be accepted here, but the high standard and dedication of local and international staff has opened the way and we are now welcomed and appreciated.
Looking ahead, it is clear that this is going to be one of the most challenging jobs of my life. But, I am proud to be working for an organisation that changes lives and I feel immensely privileged to have the opportunity to help people in what is, metaphorically speaking, an axis for one of the turning points in the history of the modern world.
I look forward to sharing my experiences with you here over the coming weeks and months.