Pakistan: Unseen Bajaur and me

MSF doesn't just need doctors. Stine blogs about her work as an HR manager in Pakistan, where she's helping to manage a project remotely, in an area with huge medical needs.

Applicants sit an MSF aptitude test in Timergara, Pakistan

It would not be unfair to say that MSF is about challenges; in fact MSF likes challenges and so do the people working for it.

I always wanted to work with Doctors Without Borders to contribute in one way or another to the cause. So without thinking too much about where, what, when and how, when I got the call for my first field placement, I decided to join the MSF squad right away.

Pakistan it was.

Stine at work in the sunshine. Photo: MSF.

I took on responsibility for the administration and human resource management  for a project in Bajaur. It is an unusual project because it is managed remotely – the international staff work from a different location with only national staff in the field. This is because Bajaur is classified by the government as a ‘restricted area’, where international staff are not permitted to go.

We have a three-member international team: field-coordinator, medical focal point and HR-Admin, based in Timergara, where MSF is running a large hospital project. In Bajaur itself we have nearly 70 local staff running the project.

A smaller team helps, especially for someone like me who is in the field for the first time

A smaller team helps, especially for someone like me who is in the field for the first time. You see a better and bigger view of the entire operations and since you become a part of most of things, it is an ideal opportunity for learning. I found myself with much more responsibility than just handling administration and human resources.

MSF provides medical care to displaced and vulnerable communities in Bajaur Agency, the northernmost agency of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) in north-west Pakistan. Our team works at Nawagai Civil Hospital, in the outpatient department, emergency room, and mother and child health department. Our paediatric services include vaccinations in support of the Expanded Program of Immunisation and therapeutic feeding for malnourished children.

The need in Bajaur is enormous

For complicated cases, MSF ensures timely referral of patients to the agency capital Khar or to Timergara. Thanks to well qualified national staff, it is a lot easier to implement MSF standard protocols and systems.

Candidates complete an aptitude test ahead of job interviews

Potential staff members sit an aptitude test. Photo: MSF.  

The need in Bajaur is enormous. There is a lack of medical facilities and although there are some private clinics, people can’t afford them. I receive dozens of applications for every basic job that MSF announces. With no internet access in the area, people travel two hours just to drop their applications. This hints at their socio-economic condition. I feel so proud of MSF’s medical services to the people in need.

We are saving lives.

In Timergara where I’ve been based, I had the luxury of some very experienced MSFers around; very supportive and very, very interesting people. While I have some lovely colleagues to play pool (snooker) with, the wonderful workout facility at the house helps release stress after long days of work. From movie nights to games nights and from ping-pong to badminton, we never ignore an opportunity to enjoy ourselves :-) 

Every sixth week, I go to the capital, Islamabad, for a long weekend. This city is beautiful and ideal for someone who likes hiking, food and shopping.

I have had a great time in Pakistan.

I like the work that MSF is doing. I really like what MSF stands for: its principles, and areas we are operating in. This assignment is an ideal start for me and I‘ll continue my work for MSF.

The HR manager before me in Bajaur came for six months but extended for nine. I would love to extend, but I want someone else to come and learn what I did.