Pakistan: One thousand kilometres from my project

Sergio is a project coordinator from Italy, currently working in Pakistan on his second assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF). In this blog, he writes about how he tackles running a remote project on the other side of the country.

So, this is my first post in a while. I am now on my second MSF assignment, this time in Pakistan.

I’m working as the project coordinator for a project in Chaman – the second largest town in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, an area bordering Afghanistan.

I am currently based, however, in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. This is while I wait for a government travel permit formally known as a “non-objection certificate”. The process of getting a certificate to travel to Chaman could take three months or more, and I have now been waiting and working in Islamabad for two months.

Remote management

So, while I wait to move to Chaman, I manage the project remotely. It is the first time working this way for me, and, although it’s challenging, I am enjoying every minute of it.

The process of getting a certificate to travel to Chaman could take three months or more, and I have now been waiting and working in Islamabad for two months."

My usual day is spent mainly on the phone or Skype with the team in the field, as well as in the office developing new policies and guidelines with a lot of printing, signing and scanning documents to the project involved. It’s a lot of paperwork… but that’s part of the job.

Remote management can be time-consuming and at times frustrating. However, it can also be rewarding and fulfilling.

Not being physically present at the project allows me to dig deeper into MSF's work and the staff at the project. I am spending a good deal of time memorising the names of local partners, learning the district headquarters hospital map by heart, and, through pictures and weekly Skype calls, I am getting to better know the team on the ground.

Four hundred babies a month

MSF has been working in Chaman since 2007.

Given the long-lasting presence of MSF in Chaman and the experience and development of local staff, there are just three international team members and 162 national staff.

In partnership with the Pakistani ministry of health, MSF runs a maternity unit, neonatal and paediatric wards at the area’s largest hospital, as well as activities around “neglected tropical diseases” and health promotion in the community. MSF also supports the ministry of health trauma team in the hospital’s emergency room.

We help deliver roughly 400 babies per month and provide treatment and care for around 700 trauma patients.

Additionally, MSF is working to renovate the maternity and child department of the hospital by providing a reliable and consistent water and electricity supply.

Heating up

At the moment, spring is almost over and giving way to a scorching hot summer. In Islamabad temperatures are as high at 38 degrees Celsius during the daytime, while in Chaman the staff on the ground enjoy cooler temperatures and higher altitudes.

For now, I enjoy the cooling air being pushed by the fan in the Islamabad office, while I try to write a monthly report, get in touch with the teams on the ground to assess security in the region, and refer a newborn baby with congenital malformation to the nearest specialist hospital.