Amul Rathi, has worked as a logistician with MSF for more than five years. He shares his experiences from setting up mobile health clinics in forest areas of Chhattisgarh in India to managing supplies for a hospital in Iraq.
Mobile Health Camp in Chhattisgarh, India© Amul Rathi/ MSF
My hometown Sukma is a tribal area in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. This region is rich in forest products but has very poor facilities for healthcare. Access to health is also limited for local people because of an ongoing conflict between government forces and Maoists.
People here die of malaria, a curable disease. I wanted to help my community but did not know what I could offer as a computer professional. I got to know about MSF when they were in my town for a health survey. I found out more about what they do and eventually joined MSF’s team in Chhattisgarh as a supply logistician in 2007.
I worked with MSF in Chhattisgarh for five years. I learned to make a difference with very limited resources. We set up mobile health clinics under trees, but treated many patients. MSF helped me understand not only the health issues in my local area but also about difficulties in access to healthcare around the world. This motivated me to volunteer with them overseas.
When I came across a job opening with MSF in Iraq, I found myself in a quandary. I was apprehensive, as I imagine others are, about working in Iraq. I did not know much about the country’s people and their culture or what my job would involve. After much deliberation, I decided to take up this opportunity.
New places and learning
In September 2012, I flew to Najaf, a city south of the capital Baghdad. I found an MSF driver waiting for me with the same smile that I later got from many MSF people in Iraq, and it reassured me that I would not be left alone in this country. During my stay in Iraq, I got to know many nice people. They welcomed me with warmth and respect. I also enjoyed Najaf, a famous and busy city as it houses a holy Islamic shrine. Pilgrims from around the world travel to the city every year.
My team in Iraq © Amul Rathi/ MSF
In Najaf, MSF runs a hospital for women and children. It is a large facility with an intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric ward, gynecological ward, emergency room and three operation theatres, including one specifically for pediatric surgeries. At any time, around 400 patients can be admitted at the hospital. The staff delivers around 14,000 newborns every year, of which around 9,000 are born with caesarian surgeries.
Working as a logistician with the hospital’s large medical team, I carried out all non-medical tasks, from ensuring the supply of medicines and drinking water to fixing a tap or computer and even making sure mosquito nets are set up properly.
My job in Iraq was interesting and certainly challenging. I have tackled an electrical board on fire, as well as negotiated supply of medicines held up at international borders for almost two months. The one important lesson I take from these seven months in Iraq is that you need to stay calm in a difficult situation. There is always a way out and you just have to keep trying till you find it.
As my assignment came to its end, I again had mixed feelings. I was happy to return to my home and family, as well as sad to leave a place where I had enjoyed my work, a different way of life and the company of new colleagues and friends. I was satisfied with what I had achieved in my work at the hospital but knew that more could still be done. When others ask me what I miss about Iraq, I remember fondly the nice people I met, how hard they work and their warm smiles.