NOT all superheroes wear capes.
In time of war or a very serious health threat, the first thing to do is to evacuate the area, flee to safety, and wait when it's safe to return home. The human instinct is to be safe and to flee from potential and life-threatening situations.
But life is so much different for medical people and logistics team members of Doctors without Borders or the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organization that offer their professional expertise for projects including primary health care.
A single team deployed in mission areas includes a field coordinator, who will be for the entire team’s security, logistics members, who are for the supply movements including the truck and cargo concerns, and the medical team who most often lead the team as the project is usually medically-driven. The medical team includes nurses who are the ones working closely with the staff and the patients.
A team from MSF visited Davao last month and shared their stories to Dabawenyos at the Cinematheque Davao.
Dr. Karina Marie Aguilar is an anesthesiologist from Metro Manila who started working for MSF five years ago and had been to 20 different missions ever since. She was previously deployed in Pakistan, Haiti, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, and in conflict-torn areas of Yemen many times.
“I think the most challenging part of the job is how you deal with different people of different cultures- not just the local people in the community of the mission but as well as the members of the team that are of different nationality. People have different beliefs. Sometimes I serve as the calming voice in the group,” Dr. Aguilar said.
Prior to joining MFS, Aguilar shared how she lost motivation in her field until a friend reminded her of her long-time dream of joining MFS and being able to help a lot more people who are in desperate need of medical assistance because of the limited access they have to it.
Five years and 20 missions in different countries after, Aguilar said everything has been worth it and fulfilling. Five years ago, the unmotivated doctor is so much different from who she is now, helping a lot of people around the world.
“There will be times that the people in the area that you’re going to go to are not educated so as a nurse, you will also function as a supervisor. You need to build capacity so you need to train, coach, and implement the MSF protocols,” said Romell Nalitan, a registered nurse from Bukidnon who has been to five different missions in Pakistan, Afghanistan border, South Sudan, and Yemen.
On his second mission back to Pakistan, he was put in a mission for malnourished children. It was his first time to be in such a mission and did not have a clear idea what it was all about except for the training he got prior to the mission deployment.
When he got to South Sudan, which he noted to be the most challenging mission he ever had, he got sick with malaria. As to how Nalitan described it, the life in their mission area in South Sudan was very basic with no electricity except for their generator unit which would sometimes fail.
“One will only see tents, patients, and mud. We do have generator but sometimes when the generator failed, there is really nothing. We live in the tents, it is so hot. In the day, since we sometimes do shifting, you cannot sleep properly. It seems like we’re working 24/7,” he said.
As with Aguila, Nalitan said the different cultures that there are in a single team can be challenging at times. But cheerfully, he shared how Filipinos are good with ‘pakikisama’ and how almost every Filipino MFS members are able to adjust easily in a mission.
“We laugh, make jokes with the staff. We need to talk, to find our own place while we are away from home. We need to mingle with the other members of the team. But also, we needed time for ourselves, to be alone. It depends really, how someone deals with the life in the mission,” he said.
“I do this for humanitarian (reasons). As for my background, I used to work in a charitable hospital. I saw the real need of the patients. I just levelled up the help and service I offer. Not just in the Philippines but abroad as well. When I went outside the Philippines, there are just much more people who need help, really. After you do the mission, you will cry from the greatness of the impact of your presence in the field. Sometimes even your smile can already help them,” Nalitan said.
Life may be difficult, but in the mission, the health practitioners find their purpose and most of all a reason to always be grateful.