Olesi Pasulani recently came back from Rustenburg where he just spent eight months working as a Project Medical Referent (PMR) in MSF’s new sexual and gender based violence project.
Born and bred in Malawi, Olesi joined MSF in 2002 as an HIV and TB technical advisor in Tsholo district, and has since worked in a number of MSF projects around the world including as field co-ordinator and medical co-ordinator. Olesi, who is married with three children, studied Health Services Management at Malawi College of Health Sciences.
Why did you choose to work in Rustenburg and what were you doing there?
I wanted to get experience in responding to the victims of gender based violence. I helped implement our overall plans and activities, and monitor and evaluate how we did things. I also helped manage the pharmacy, and gave technical support and supervision for staff
How big was your team and what activities did you undertake with them?
The medical team was split into two. There were seven in the MSF clinic, and seven health promotion staff who would go out into the community. At the clinic, we provided medical, legal and psychological support to sexual assault survivors, who were both male and female, from as young as one to 65 years old. Our goal was really to minimise the impact that incidents of sexual violence had on survivors.
Can you describe what your typical day looked like?
I alternated my days between the office and the clinic. In the office, I held meetings, planned activities for the medical team, made sure our staffing levels were good, and sometimes worked on our protocols and guidelines on sexual violence.
At the clinic, I worked with staff as their technical referent and guide.
Some days, we wouldn’t receive any survivors in the clinic, so I concentrated instead on administration. I was available every day, 24 hours a day in order to help bring solutions and guidance to my team.
What accomplishments are you super proud of?
I am proud of having been part of the set-up of this project. This experience really raised my confidence and was very fulfilling. In the beginning, we didn’t get many survivors at the clinic, but I am proud to say through health promotion activities and publicity, the number of people we are seeing has now increased.
Also knowing that some people who might not have sought medical care because of their circumstances are coming to the clinic is great, because the services are free and there is strict confidentiality.
Developing and mentoring staff, teaching and building the team was fantastic, even though it wasn’t easy.
What was the hardest part of your job?
Listening to the survivors’ stories was not easy. It really got to me personally. Seeing a one year-old victim of sexual violence broke my heart because I wondered what was going through the minds of that minor’s parents. I have a four year-old daughter at home so I was extremely worried, asking myself “what if it happened to my daughter?” I became so over sensitive that I called my wife daily to check if my daughter was fine. It’s hard to separate work from your personal feelings.
What kept you motivated?
The passion, energy and the experience of starting a new project kept me motivated. This is an experience I will always value – though not easy, I learnt a lot about myself during this time.
You have been with MSF for a long time, why MSF?
As a professional clinician, MSF is the right place to be. MSF fits me very well. However this is not the major driving force, but my experience working with MSF has convinced me that our organisation is genuinely 100 percent there for its patients. This is not a briefcase type of NGO where everything is done remotely. We are there on the ground and you really see the value of your contribution. I really subscribe to MSF values and principles this is why I’ve stuck around this long.
What was the most memorable moment for you in Rustenburg?
We had a survivor who could not go back home because it wasn’t safe for her, so managing to arrange for her to be put into a place of safety was memorable for me. It is extremely difficult to do so because there are so many processes involved.
Describe your dream assignment
I would love to work in an emergency set up. The adrenalin is huge! I had a feel of it when I worked in the Nsanje project when there were floods in Malawi (2014). The good thing about emergencies is you see the results and the impact of your intervention immediately.
Who are some of your team members you will never forget?
My medical team and the Field Co-ordinator made my stay in Rustenburg memorable because we worked hard together, they were always happy to assist.
Where are you headed to for your next assignment?
For now I am taking a very short break, but will leave for India probably at the end of March where I will work in MSF’s primary healthcare project as a Project Medical Referent again.
Find out more about MSF's work in South Africa