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7 essential questions

The issues we have mentioned above are intended to give you an awareness of what working abroad entails. Thousands of people who have worked with MSF over the years have found their experience in the field demanding, but enriching. For many of them, leaving for a mission proved to be a turning point in their life.
© Dieter Telemans
    What is my motivation ?

    Heading off on mission with MSF is no trivial matter. In addition to using your professional skills, you will need to demonstrate commitment to the populations at risk and respect the values described in the MSF Charter.

    The values laid out in the  Charter – neutrality, impartiality, non-discrimination, personal commitment, medical ethics and respect for human dignity – are lived and practiced daily, through decisions made by the organisation as a whole and by each of its members individually. We expect MSF staff to understand these values and make them their own. Before taking the first steps to work with MSF abroad, you should understand the reasons behind your decision. Are you idealising our work, or making an informed decision? Do your motivations and values go hand in hand with MSF’s mission?

    It is also important that you understand the day-to-day realities facing MSF employees who often live and work in unfamiliar surroundings, under difficult and stressful conditions. If you want to join an MSF mission, we recommend that you read through the sections below. This will help you gain a better understanding of the implications of making this commitment.

    What will I be faced with ?

    When applying to MSF, you need to be aware that we work to improve access to healthcare for vulnerable populations in countries where the following factors can be in play:
    •    Flagrant abuses of human rights.
    •    Women, men and children, depending on their ethnic, social or tribal origins, may not be able to enjoy rights that are generally accepted and recognised in western societies.
    •    Homosexuality may be punished by the law.
    •    Rape may be used as a weapon of war.
    •    Infectious diseases and epidemics are common.

    What about security ?

    For MSF, the safety and security of staff is a priority. You may be asked to live and work in unstable countries where your life could be in danger. For all of our projects, handbooks have been created to limit risks as far as possible. Working with MSF in the field means representing MSF day and night, every day of the week, even during your free time and on holiday. Everyone is responsible for their own safety and the safety of their team.

    Following MSF’s security rules may limit your movements and interactions with the local population outside of working hours. However, it is essential that you understand that your actions, as a member of MSF’s staff, can have an impact not only on the people you are interacting with but also on the MSF project and, as a result, can directly impact upon beneficiaries. As such, it is vital that you follow the rules laid down by MSF. When your working day is over, you may have to observe a curfew and may have to remain within the MSF compound.

    What are the living conditions like ?

    When working abroad with MSF, you will have to adapt to many changes, including food, accommodation, daily routine, recreation and language. A new lifestyle awaits you, where free time and privacy can be in short supply. You may have to share your bedroom and bathroom. You need to be sure that you can do without normal comforts before applying to MSF. MSF projects can take place in locations where the weather conditions are not always mild (extreme heat or cold, high humidity, heavy rainfall or desert climate). You will also be a long way from your friends and family for several months at a time.

    Communication can be difficult.

    Working in the field requires you to be in good health and have a healthy lifestyle which ensures that you remain so. This is in fact the best way to avoid diseases and to be able to carry out all the tasks required of you. As such, appropriate vaccinations are also essential, as are certain preventive measures (against malaria, for example).

    Can I handle stress ?

    Working in the field with MSF can create a stressful environment. Many factors can contribute to this: completely changing environment, basic living conditions, local food, distance from friends and family, potential health issues, strained relationships between fellow team members, feeling unsafe, frequent project changes and relationships with the local authorities that can be difficult, etc.

    Have you asked yourself the following questions ?
    •    How do you handle stress in your daily life?
    •    Being part of a field team means you need to be ready to offer solutions at any time. Have you previously lived and worked in a group of 3 to 10 people for extended periods?
    •    Are you a good communicator and leader?
    •    Can you put aside your personal problems so that you can carry out the work you are asked to do?
    •    What do you find stressful and how can you handle this within a team?

    What will be the impact on my family and private life?

    Working abroad means leaving your loved ones for a certain period of time, usually between 6 and 12 months. What impact will being away for up to a year have on your private life?
    Also consider the impact a difficult working environment will have on your morale. Being assigned to a mission abroad is of course exciting, but the return home can be trying for both you and your family: working in the field leaves its marks.

    Am I open to working with different cultures?

    There are cultural differences and while they can be enriching, they can also lead to misunderstandings. Punctuality at work, relationships with superiors and between men and women can vary between countries. Being tolerant of people who think and act differently than you is essential. Tolerance and mutual respect are key values within MSF.

    In conclusion

    Working for MSF is a commitment, rather than just an adventure or a job opportunity.
    Do you have further questions ? Have a look at our FAQ or contact us by e-mail : catherine.jager@luxembourg.msf.org