A Deeper Look into Deciding to Join MSF

The time has come – I’m days away from leaving for my first MSF posting. I’ve decided that I wanted to write a blog while I’m on assignment because I’ve read so many MSF blog posts over the last year. I’ve found them to be inspiring and helpful in deciding/preparing to work for MSF.


I first considered applying for MSF in Fall 2017, after returning from travelling in Rwanda. I was inspired by friends and people I met working in non-government organizations which reignited an old aspiration of mine. I have always been passionate about travelling and have dreamed of combining my love of travelling with my career as a clinical social worker. In fact, one of the factors in choosing to pursue my Master of Social Work (MSW) degree was that I was aware that MSF accepted MSWs with clinical backgrounds.

So naturally, when I was considering making this dream a reality, applying for MSF was an obvious choice. MSF's commitment to provide medical care to those that need it most alongside their policy of 'témoignage’ - to bear witness and speak out - is what attracted me most to working with them.

Application Process 

In some ways, being delayed was tough - being patient and waiting is not always my strong suit and I was already logistically and mentally ready to go.

I began my application in February 2018, and submitted in March 2018. Fast forward six months, several questionnaires, a written test, multiple phone calls, interviews, and three detailed reference checks, I was officially in the "pool" of available mental health specialists  at the end of August 2018. In November 2018, I was offered a nine-month assignment as Mental Health Activities Manager, overseeing the psychosocial component of a tuberculosis/hepatitis/HIV project in Manipur, India beginning in January 2019. 

I accepted the posting two days later. The next several weeks saw me pack up my apartment, give notice to my job, and fly to Bonn, Germany for PPD (pre-departure training) where I met an incredibly talented and inspiring group of new colleagues.

My planned departure date to India was January 3, 2019 however I had some unexpected logistical delays. In some ways, being delayed was tough - being patient and waiting is not always my strong suit and I was already logistically and mentally ready to go. However, in the end, it was a bit of a blessing in disguise. The extra time allowed me to take a quick trip to my home province, Prince Edward Island to visit my family and to celebrate the arrival of my close friend’s first child.

Transition and Preparation 

A photo of Kayla Dawson's dog As much as I’m excited to go on my first assignment, I do find myself nervous to go and questioning my decision to uproot my life. If I’m being honest, a big part of my apprehension to go is my dog, Rudy. Rudy is nine-and-a-half-years and has congestive heart failure. She has slowed down significantly since September 2018 and I worry she will not live to see me return from India. I’ve had more than my fair share of tears thinking about leaving her.  

Rudy became a part of my life a couple of years ago during a particularly tough time and has brought me more joy than words can describe. I can’t imagine my life without her. A hockey teammate - so Canadian of me - told me that Rudy would want this experience for me and I choose to believe this is true.

My other big stress has been packing. I think my obsession with what to pack has been my way of coping with the unknown. I’m going to be in India during monsoon, so waterproof footwear and a raincoat seem important. I learned that the coffee in the area is instant so in went four bags of coffee and a camping espresso maker. I’ll be in a rural area and unable to go out after dark which I have learned is between 4-5p.m. I’ve packed some small board games, cross stitch and crochet materials, books, a portable hard drive of shows/movies/music, and a yoga mat.

Manipur is in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas and has been described as the ‘land of jewels’ in reference to its beautiful natural landscape. I’ve packed my running shoes and am hopeful that I’ll be able to do some hiking and running on weekends; being active in nature is a huge part of my life in Canada. Finally, I’ve brought some cheese, chocolate, and maple syrup (along with the coffee) to make friends with my housemates/colleagues. 

The Beginning of a New Journey

A friend said that his dad’s motto is that you can do anything for a year. When the mixed feelings and anxiety set in, I remind myself of this motto and the reasons why I decided to apply for MSF in the first place. It also helps knowing that Rudy is going to be well loved and cared for by my partner, Sean, who has embraced this crazy plan of mine, and is going to care for our two kitties as well! I’m also incredibly lucky to have a great support system in Canada who have been really encouraging throughout the MSF process.

My next post will be after I arrive in Manipur. I’m going to spend the last few days in Canada getting as many Rudy cuddles in as possible.