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“Working alongside the Nigerian staff was a humbling and heart-warming experience”

29 May 2018

Logistician Joe Park, from Newstead, Victoria, recently returned from Port Harcourt, Nigeria on his first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontiѐres. 

What led you to work with Médecins Sans Frontiѐres?

I completed a degree in Environmental Science in 2010, and worked for several organisations in water quality and project management. Most recently I worked as a Forest Firefighter with Park Victoria for almost five years, where my primary function was in emergency response and suppression of wildfires on public land in the state of Victoria. I heard about the role of Logistician with Médecins Sans Frontiѐres from a friend who encouraged me to apply. I found that the opportunity to work for such a well-renowned organisation and knowing I could put my skills and experiences to use working in a humanitarian context overseas was too good to pass up. 

“Having worked in an emergency context before, I found I could quickly adapt to the unpredictability of working in an unstable environment.”

What did your role in Port Harcourt involve?

I held the position of Logistics Manager at Médecins Sans Frontiѐres’ project in Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt is located in Rivers State in the far south of Nigeria. The project was opened in 2015 to provide care for victims of sexual violence. Médecins Sans Frontiѐres runs two clinics to provide medical care including post exposure prophylaxis (known as ‘PEP’) for HIV prevention as well as psychological care, social support and health promotion via a dedicated outreach team. 

As Logistics Manager my task was to oversee all logistics activities within the project, coordinating with the Médecins Sans Frontiѐres team in the capital Abuja. This included management of staff including a storekeeper, hospital logisticians, drivers and watchmen; project management including renovation of our office and expat house and installation of communication equipment such as HF and VHF antennas; reception of international cargo including our medical supplies from France; and fleet management including detailed movement planning for interstate travel. No two days were ever the same. I managed a very dedicated and hardworking national staff logistics team and this I am very thankful for. 

Did the assignment differ from your expectations in any way?

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of technical support I had throughout my assignment. I worked with technical referents in a range of areas including IT, communications and water and sanitation, and learning from these people and working together to solve problems was very satisfying. 

 

How did your skills and experience from previous jobs prove useful for the role?

Having worked in an emergency context before, although a very different one, I found I could quickly adapt to the unpredictability of working in an unstable environment. I was quick to draw on skills in building and renovation as well as experience in areas such as communications and water chlorination from previous careers. I also found it very beneficial having previously volunteered in developing countries and worked alongside people of different cultures. 

"No two days were ever the same. I managed a very dedicated and hardworking national staff logistics team and this I am very thankful for."

Which experiences stand out for you from this assignment?

Having only been in Nigeria for several days I made my way by road from Abuja to Port Harcourt. Staring out the window for two long days as Nigerian life passed by, seeing the changes in landscape and culture from state to state, crossing the Niger River, laughing with wide-eyed locals at a roadside market and slowly making my way down to my new home for the coming six months was truly surreal. 

In Port Harcourt, I was lucky to work alongside an outstanding team of national staff. I enjoyed many laughs, high fives, fist bumps and even a dance or two with the Médecins Sans Frontiѐres Nigerian staff and I found their big smiles and friendly nature infectious. Working alongside the team and learning a little of their history and culture was a very humbling and heart-warming experience.