Pol Heredero has recently completed a nine-month posting with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) as Logistics Coordinator in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The provinces of North and South Kivu were at the epicenter of the Congo wars and have remained unstable ever since. An estimated 120 armed groups are active and 850,000 people in the province (or 15 per cent of the population) live in displaced-persons camps. Many displaced people, especially in South Kivu, either live in the woods or are sheltered in host communities, increasing the vulnerability of the host families.
As a logistician Pol’s role involved organizing the movement of staff and supplies across this terrain, negotiating mudslides and the changing dynamics of a conflict zone to ensure that patients could access life-saving medical care...
The one thing I knew about DRC was that it would be a challenge. I hadn’t been to a francophone country with MSF before, but I had met many people who spoke enthusiastically about it, who told me that the needs there were very great. I heard that the context was complex, so I thought it would be a challenge.
And it's true: the first thing you learn working in DRC is that the context is extremely complicated. There are so many armed groups and their allegiances and dynamics are constantly changing. It can be difficult to understand.
The team use motorbikes to get supplies to our medical projects in romote areas. Photo: Pol Heredero / MSF.
The other thing is that access to our projects - our clinics and healthposts - is really difficult. We do everything we can to reach our patients. We take every mode of transport, whether that means going by car, on motorbikes or on foot.
During the rainy season, the rain can move mountains. It affects everything. Rocks can fall, and then the only road that existed to get to the clinic is suddenly blocked so you have to adapt. In some cases this means taking alternative means of transport. But sometimes you can spend days without being able to go anywhere. In DRC nothing is constant.
The team work on fixing a damaged vehicle. Photo: MSF.
It’s the same for the patients who are trying to access healthcare - to take a sick relative to the doctor or get to a maternity unit to give birth. Sometimes, because of rain or the fighting, they are blocked and unable to move. That’s why it’s important that MSF is there.
There are existing clinics or hospitals, but you have to pay and the quality of care might be low, or the necessary medication isn’t available. So MSF is really necessary, and we are well received.
Our teams are made up mostly of local staff. It can be complicated to work across cultures, but what made an impression on me was the how well the teams work together, the strong will coming from everyone to improve the situation.
Every time there is a challenge the teams figure out how to get there, how to solve the problems. In DRC there are always problems – but there are always people trying to solve them too.
Of course there is some frustration. It can be frustrating to feel like change is not happening. Sometimes people lose motivation because it can get to be too much. But when you have a difficult day, when you meet obstacles – exactly like the ones you find on the blocked roads – you start with your priorities, you solve things one at a time and you do everything together as a team. You remind yourself that MSF is going where no one else will go in any way that we can, and when we get there we really make a difference.