MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Afghanistan, maternal care
Afghanistan

From Afghanistan to Sierra Leone: My Journey With MSF

Arif Sohail is a supply team leader in Sierra Leone, working to ensure that medics have the medicines and equipment they need to save lives.

However, his story with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) started much closer to home in Afghanistan. From welcoming children to learning to cook, here Arif shares how MSF has become part of his family.

When I took my first job abroad with MSF, I knew there would be lots of things to learn. 

In any new assignment, there are local medical needs, ways of working and different systems. But there was also something else: I decided to learn how to cook.

 

A recipe from Arif

Kabuli Pulao is an Afghan rice dish which I recently cooked for my colleagues in Sierra Leone.

  • 4 cups long-grain basmati rice
  • 1 cup sesame oil or any other oil
  • 2 large size onions
  • 1 kg goat/beef/lamb meat
  • Tbsp Salt
  • Tbsp Cumin
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 carrots (it depends)
  • 1 cup of red raisin

Wash the rice and soak it in cold water for three hours

Slice two large onions.

Heat one cup of oil in a large deep-sided pan and fry the onions for five minutes

Add the meat to the pan, and add salt to taste.

Add 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds.

Fry for ten minutes.

Add four cups of hot water. Cover with a lid and cook on medium heat for 45 minutes until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, finely slice the carrots.

Remove the pan from the heat. Keeping the meat in the pan, take half the soaked rice and spread it on top to form a smooth layer, covering the meat completely. Then add the carrots and one cup of raisins and spread them out. Finally, spread over the rest of the rice as the final layer.

Add enough hot water to ensure that the rice is covered by about half an inch – around two cups’ worth.

Wrap the lid of the pan in a clean tea towel. Secure carefully and use to cover the pan.

Return to low-medium heat for 45 minutes until all the water is absorbed.

Enjoy!

“Working in supply is about making sure that all the goods, medical equipment, logistic materials, everything, arrive on time. So, if a surgeon needs a scalpel, or a premature baby needs oxygen, there’s no delay. That’s how we support medical activities and help save lives. Arif Sohail, MSF Logistician

Life in Afghanistan

I am originally from Khost, in the southeastern part of Afghanistan. I was born in 1988 into a big extended family of 27 people. Throughout almost all of my life, fighting has been ongoing in my country.

When I was in my early 20s, I got a job in the supply team at the maternity hospital in Khost, which is one of MSF’s busiest worldwide. The needs are huge: in the first six months of this year alone, around 10,000 women gave birth there.

I quickly learned that the supply team plays a key role in a medical humanitarian organization like MSF.

It’s about making sure that all the goods, medical equipment, logistic materials, everything, arrive on time. So, if a surgeon needs a scalpel, or a premature baby needs oxygen, there’s no delay.

That’s how we support medical activities and help save lives.

MSF wound care clinic (WCC), Kunduz, Afghanistan (2019)

My family

I’m a father of five daughters, the oldest is nearly 12, and the youngest is nearly two.

Four of them go to school, and the youngest is not yet school-age. All of my children were born in the MSF hospital in Khost, so before I even joined the team, MSF was already part of my family.

Like other Afghans, we’ve endured difficult situations because of the consecutive wars. Compared to other provinces, life in Khost is better in terms of security and economy, however, many people have left to work abroad and send money to support their families.

As a father, it’s my responsibility to support my girls to study, have a good life and be an example of good, educated girls in the community.

So I, too, left Afghanistan to support my family. But working with MSF means I also have the opportunity to help others facing difficult circumstances, extend my professional experience and learn more about different cultures and communities.

All of my children were born in the MSF hospital… before I even joined the team, MSF was already part of my family. Arif Sohail, MSF Logistician

Working abroad

After working in the maternity hospital, I was promoted to warehouse advisor in the head office in Kabul. A short trip to support the MSF team in Nigeria inspired me, and in 2019 I went through the recruitment process and got my first full assignment: warehouse manager in Sierra Leone.

Next, I worked in the Regional Supply Center in Nairobi, helping to send supplies and equipment to MSF teams in 14 countries, from established hospitals to acute emergencies.

Right now, I’m back in Sierra Leone, where I am now responsible for the whole supply chain, warehouse, procurement, customs and transport for MSF’s work in the country. MSF has worked in Sierra Leone for 35 years. We’re currently focusing on getting medical care to mothers and children, and treating tuberculosis.

The MSF outreach team in an MSF vehicle in Kenema, Sierra Leone

Life in the field

Working abroad, I miss my family, friends, and Afghanistan in general. I follow the situation there closely.

I also miss the cooking.

Most of the men in Afghanistan don’t know how to cook. So, going abroad for the first time, I struggled with food.

But since I’m now away regularly, I’ve been trying my best to learn from YouTube and from my MSF colleagues. Being away from our beloved families is not easy. We try to support each other, and one way is to cook something and share it with the team. When I go home on vacation, I occasionally do the cooking as well. My wife is always surprised when she sees me in the kitchen!

I also love getting outside, and even a game of badminton helps us come together and manage stress.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone
  The busy ward of Hangha Hospital in Sierra Leone, kept going by Arif and his supply team
Peter Bräunig

Supply

I now have almost ten years’ experience working in supply chain management in different positions and in different countries with MSF.

One thing I’ve learned: there is no “normal”.

Sometimes a sudden emergency means an influx of people needing care, and lots of urgent requests for supplies.

Sometimes we have challenges with importing potentially life-saving equipment, or prices fluctuate, or we have to ensure items purchased from local markets meet MSF standards.

In Sierra Leone this year we have worked on 95 international freight shipments via air, sea and land. All bringing with them the materials teams need to care for our patients.

It gives me extra energy and motivation to be part of an organization standing by people at times they need it most.

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