Patricia recently returned from Rustenburg, in South Africa's Northwest Province where she worked as a Field Co-ordinator of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) newly established project focused treating survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The MSF team offers medical assistance and psychological care to women in communities in the platinum mining belt. The project started in June 2015 with a team of 33 staff and later expanded when it had 85 people working on a survey about women’s health-seeking behaviour in the mining belt.
Patricia started off with MSF in 2009 in Zimbabwe where she worked as a Communications Officer for 5 years. In 2014, she joined MSF’s team in Lesotho where she worked as a Health Policy Advisor until the project's closure in August 2015. In Lesotho, Patricia had the following roles and responsibilities:
- Representing MSF at partner meetings
- Spearheading policy change i.e. family planning
- Capacitating civil society
- Maintaining relationships with the government, UN organisations, civil society and grassroots communities
Patricia has the following qualifications / training:
- 2008 – Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Biology from the Griffith University in Australia
- 2012 – Communication / Journalism – 2 vocational education and non- academic training from MSF
- 2013 – Masters in Public Health from the Walden University in the USA
- She also did a Project Co-ordination course with MSF in 2015.
Patricia tells us more about her work in Rustenburg
What were some of your roles and responsibilities?
- I was basically responsible for the smooth running of the project.
- Working on the budget and had to look for more resources.
- Was responsible for overseeing a women’s health-seeking behaviour survey that was conducted over two and a half months. The report will be used to develop workshops and as an advocacy tool.
What accomplishments are you proud of?
I am proud that the project kicked off well and that we have started to see a number of sexual violence survivors coming to seek our services. Every month we would see an average of between 15 – 20 survivors. We have also seen a few men coming to the project, but we hope soon they will be more. In most instances, we have seen women and children under 20 years old.
What are some of the challenges you were faced during your assignment in Rustenburg?
Unlike an HIV project where you can see results or change imminently by implementing advocacy strategies and spreading preventative messages, it is hard to measure the impact of a project of this nature because you are not sure if the message is reaching the right people. With HIV you can start to see HIV prevalence or incidence rates declining.
With SGBV it's very difficult to prevent the violence and often all that can be done is to assist survivors after they experience it. This really broke my heart because I couldn't feel the immediate impact and it felt like there was very little I could do to prevent violence from occurring.
SGBV is not an easy subject to address, a lot of people can’t openly talk about it, they feel embarrassed, and hence it was not easy to always talk about it.
Acceptance is still a huge challenge. Unlike in many parts of the world where I have worked where people know a number of Non-Governmental Organisations operating in their area, many people didn’t know a lot about NGOs including MSF, so they were still trying to understand who we are and what we do. It was only when they saw our MSF vehicles, that’s when they would remember they had seen MSF being featured on television during the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. They kept referring to us as the Ebola people.
Do you see yourself working for MSF still in the next 5 years and why?
Indeed, I don’t see myself doing anything else. Working for MSF is quite fulfilling and is a satisfaction of my passion.
How supportive is your family to your work?
My family is very supportive, they know I have always wanted to work for MSF. I don’t want to be in a position where I feel comfortable, with MSF you have different but fulfilling experiences. You can never be comfortable when you work for MSF because you can go to any assignment that will prepare you and teach you to live outside your comfort zone.
What would be your dream assignment?
I am hoping to experience an assignment that is outside the Southern African region. I would really love to go to Asia for a different context and work on a different assignment that is not HIV. I have worked on so many projects that are HIV and TB inclined, so I would really love to have a new experience.
What are your current plans before you go on your next assignment?
February is a month of rest, so I am taking a break to visit my family before I go on my next assignment where I will take up a similar position of Field Co-ordinator. Not sure yet where I am going.
Find out more about MSF's work in South Africa