November 2012. MSF SA fieldworkers

In November 2012, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) South Africa hosted a two-day workshop with past and future fieldworkers where our fieldworkers shared experiences and debated humanitarian issues. They also learned more about what MSF has to offer.

From surgeons to clinical psychologists, MSF fieldworkers help populations in need in almost 70 countries around the world. Whether in the field or at home, our fieldworkers are our eyes and ears on the ground, so their voices are central to raising awareness about issues affecting our patients, recruitment efforts and the fundraising efforts that keep our projects going.

For our fieldworkers, the job doesn’t end in the field and neither does their relationship with MSF. MSF encourages fieldworkers continued involvement in the organisation through participation in its association, yearly meetings and debates as well as opportunities for fieldworkers to run for MSF South Africa board positions.

Speaking at the gathering in Johannesburg, MSF South Africa board president and former fieldworker Prinitha Pillay said that not only does the association help guide MSF South Africa but it also provides our fieldworkers the chance to reflect on their experiences.

Prinitha began her work for MSF in Lesotho before working in India, South Sudan and Libya among other countries.  She recalled her first mission in the mountain kingdom:

“What appealed to me is that MSF was doing things ahead of everyone else,” said Prinitha, who helped MSF pioneer nurse-initiated HIV treatment. “In MSF you have to be willing to stand up for someone else. For me, that’s something very South African.”

She then spent two years working in South Sudan with no indoor plumbing, water or electricity; “You really immerse yourself in the community. You have to have a deep sense of what it’s like to have nothing to understand what patients face.”

“The association is about reflecting on your experience if you don’t there is no turning things upside, there’s no going forward.”

The recent meeting allowed fieldworkers to debate and review lessons learned on missions. It also allowed MSF South Africa head of recruitment James Kambaki to introduce how MSF is working to better support and retain fieldworkers including longer, more flexible contracts, better compensation and more opportunities to interact with the MSF South Africa.

The office has sent a record 45 fieldworkers to projects this year as of early December. The fieldworker meeting is set to become an annual event.