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Nigeria: “I can only explain my arrival as being warm and welcoming”

15 Nov 2016

Megan Graham is a Field Admin Manager currently based in Jahun, Nigeria.  She has broad finance, business and HR experience providing a great base for the Administrative challenges in the field.  Megan is Australian but has spent many years in Kenya and the Middle East.  This is her first mission with MSF and her first blog.

“A week after completing my pre-departure training, I was back in Adelaide wondering how long it would be before I would go on my first mission. I didn’t have to wait long! There was a place available in Nigeria but if I wanted to go I had to leave in a week!  Before I knew it, I’d had briefings in Sydney and Paris and was in the Nigerian capital Abuja. A few days later—after a bumpy eight hour drive—I arrived in the northern town of Jahun – my home for the next six months. I can only explain my arrival as being warm and welcoming. Everyone offered the same greeting: “Welcome to Jahun Paradise”. The base (admin, logistics and expat accommodation) is a five minute walk from the hospital. At times, due to security restrictions, it can only be travelled by car. Other times it is nice to have the five minute walk to stretch the legs and see a little of the community.  

"But what I can do is use my 20 years of finance and administration experience to help the project run efficiently"

Médecins Sans Frontières has been at Jahun Hospital since 2008, focussing on obstetric care and vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) operations and rehabilitation. With no medical skills, I can’t help these patients by taking away their pain, delivering their baby or operating on their devastating pre- or post-labour injuries. But I can use my 20 years of finance and administration experience to help the project run efficiently. My role as Admin Manager is to manage the human resources and finance for the mission, supporting the expat medical team with HR related issues and payments, and the logistics and coordination team with financial requests, budgets and payments. With over 190 staff there is always someone needing to sign their payslip, ask for forms, collect ID cards or receive their salary. My Hausa [local language] is not good but we get there in the end (I think!).

I try to get to the hospital at least twice a week to attend ward meetings and so I get to know the staff. It’s important to me to be part of the project and I want the staff to feel comfortable coming to the office with any issues. The first thing you see when you reach the hospital are the many caretakers—family of the patients—who camp on the hospital grounds outside the wards. They provide food for the patients, and care for the newborn baby if the mother has had complications or simply needs a rest. It’s a community within itself and the colourful clothes, large smiles and constant chatter is a welcoming sight. One day we had a celebration for the VVF patients, showing them pictures and videos of their rehabilitation classes, along with sodas and candy donated by the doctors. Their gratitude was overwhelming; such a small gesture was so warmly received. They dressed in their best clothes, did their makeup and had smiles from ear to ear. 

It certainly puts our first world problems in perspective when you spend time with these ladies. They have endured so much pain and suffering, many ostracised from their family and community, yet they beam smiles when you walk in the room and have a sense of finding their own family amongst their fellow patients. So “Welcome to Jahun Paradise” is two-fold: paradise for the expats who have a compound that is certainly not a hardship, and paradise for the patients that are receiving free healthcare that without Médecins Sans Frontières they would not receive.”

 

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