Fieldset
How I became a Doctors Without Borders fieldworker (even though I’m not a doctor)

From the snowy mountains of his home country of Pakistan to a healthcare emergency in South Sudan, Zafar shares the story of how he became part of the team...

Zafar Abdi and colleagues at an MSF project in South Sudan

It was a chilly Monday morning in Gilgit, a cold mountainous area in the northern-most part of Pakistan.

I had just finished going through my emails after finalizing a training plan on donor funds management for a project I was working on. It was October, 2015.

With all my pressing tasks ticked off, it was time to skim through the headlines.

It was then that I decided MSF was the organization I wanted to work for

The South Asian region my country is situated in never fails to provide disturbing news. It was all over the headlines that two days before a hospital facility in Afghanistan had been bombed in an American air strike. The hospital was run by the charity Doctors without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).  

I became obsessed.

The next few weeks all I did was google MSF, and the more I read, the more awestruck I was by the amazing work they were doing in nearly 70 countries.

It was then that I decided MSF was the organization I wanted to work for.

The application process

By 2017 I was finally ready to apply to join the team.

I flew to Sri Lanka for a rigorous assessment center session. 30 people were invited, mostly from Pakistan.

I had heard about assessment centers being used for recruitment in top corporate organizations and I was excited to participate in my first ever "AC".

An organization putting so much effort into finding the right talent is worth working for...

It was a two-day process.

The first day was a panel interview of an hour. The next day involved a computer-based exam coupled with a paper exam; scenario analysis; group discussion; and individual presentations followed by a grueling question session by a panel of assessors.

I felt more content after going through this process: an organization putting so much effort into finding the right talent is worth working for. The assessment center gave me a good idea of what is expected from members of the team and a general picture of what I would be up against.

The offer

By the end of 2017 I was accepted into the "pool" of available finance coordinators, and in the first quarter of 2018 I was selected for my first assignment in South Sudan as deputy finance coordinator.

South Sudan seemed challenging and many questions and worrisome thoughts crossed my mind. I still had in my mind the attack in Kunduz which left 42 people dead including children women and 14 MSF staff. It was not the first, nor the last attack on health facilities run and managed by MSF.

Should I feel uncomfortable, I could say “no” and MSF would try to match me for another posting...

Soon after being told I’d been selected for South Sudan I got briefing documents about the country, context, projects, role of MSF and detailed situation reports with the emphasis that, should I feel uncomfortable, I could say “no” and MSF would try to match me for another posting.

The information provided by MSF, about security guidelines, staff health included in a “Welcome to South Sudan” package made me feel welcome even before embarking on this exciting journey.

I was offered an online Preparation for Primary Departure (PPD) course which helped me to make an informed decision.

I said yes.

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Read more: Posts about preparing for first assignments

My introduction to MSF

Nursing in Pakistan: The PPD and Pakistani tea