My friends and family have asked me about the other expatriates (expats) in the mission. There are seven expats in Mbabane (the capital of Swaziland) at the operation headquarters called “Coordination” and right now there are 10 of us in Nhlangano. The Nhlangano team is really diverse, with representation from: Burkina Faso, Kenya, France, Belgium (2), Switzerland, Austria, Cameroon, Italy, and USA. Everyone has arrived at a different time with an assignment anywhere between six months and two years (or longer). Often missions get extended to offer consistency and to support project completion of some sort. Four expats recently left after four to 22 months.
The 10 expats in Nhlangano are in leadership positions or have an essential expertise needed for the mission. Currently the expat team includes a Field Coordinator (this means they are responsible for leading all of the activities in a certain part of the mission), Head of Lab, Head of Logistics across the region, physician in the clinics, Head of Research (physician), Medical Lead (physician), HIV/TB referent (physician), Psychosocial education counseling referent (nurse), the finance lead in the field, and Head of Pharmacy (me).
There are more than 200 people that work for MSF in the Shiselweni region to cover the needs of the 22 clinics, two health centers, one hospital, one inpatient TB ward, many programs and lots of activities. The staff for the mission is a combination of expats and national staff. “Expat” at MSF means that you are leaving your country of origin to carry out international or humanitarian work. Nationals are those from the country or from surrounding countries that have a variety of leadership roles in the mission. The national staff includes (but is not limited to) nurses, pharmacy techs, pharmacy assistants, expert clients (those living with HIV counseling others), lab technicians, HR, logisticians, drivers, supply managers, housekeepers, mechanics, managers for these folks, and many others.
It’s a really interesting group of people, all of whom have a fascinating story to tell. For some people it is their first mission (like me) and others have done many missions (the highest number I have heard is nine) around the world. Many have worked for other NGOs (some of us have come from the private sector) and the motivations to work for MSF is as diverse as the team. To have a conversation with this group it is important to have a world map handy!