New Zealander Siry Ibrahim has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the MSF Head of Mission. Siry shares his experiences being on multiple missions with us and being a coordinator in a project.
What led you to work with Médecins Sans Frontières?
I was drawn to work for Médecins Sans Frontières because of what it stands for – it amasses the abilities of a wide range of people to reach where no other organisation can. Also, because a large percentage of funding goes directly to the beneficiaries and is not spent in administration. The concept of volunteerism is still true in this organisation.
How did you make the transition from field administrator to Head of Mission?
I joined Médecins Sans Frontières as an Administration Manager because of my background in human resources and finance. I hold a Bachelor of Commerce and Administration majoring in HR and International Business, plus related work experience. I then became a Logistics Manager which allowed me to use my experience and postgraduate qualifications in logistics and supply chain management. Having completed a few assignments, and taking into consideration my prior experience, I was offered an opportunity to transition into the role of Project Coordinator while in the field. After a couple of missions as Project Coordinator, I was given the chance to be a Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Afghanistan.
What does your role in Afghanistan involve?
I contribute to the analysis and follow up of the political and humanitarian situation for Médecins Sans Frontières in Afghanistan, including analysing the local context and problems. I give support to our operational strategy, monitor operations and provide managerial support to the Project Coordinators. I have responsibilities in security analysis and management, negotiations with stakeholders, communications and reporting, to name a few. Part of my role is also to facilitate the debates and discussions at field level among Médecins Sans Frontières’ association members.
"I was drawn to work for Médecins Sans Frontières because of what it stands for – it amasses the abilities of a wide range of people to reach where no other organisation can"
What do you like most about the role?
Médecins Sans Frontières provides a very unique opportunity – the job is challenging and rewarding at the same time. The most challenging aspects are sometimes feeling hopeless when you cannot access the people in need, and when you say goodbye to people you have just spent your whole assignment with. But the work gives you a sense of fulfilment that no other job can. I love following international affairs and politics in general and this work helps me to expand my understanding in this area.
Could you describe any moments that made you proud to work for Médecins Sans Frontières?
You feel happy and proud every time you see the impact of the work of your team and the appreciation in the faces of patients. When I was in Borno State in Nigeria, people were experiencing one of the biggest humanitarian crises, inflicted by the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Army, along with environmental degradation, specifically drought in the Lake Chad area. It was difficult to grasp the severity of the situation. When you go there, it is like something out of the imagination. There were endless numbers of kids and women, very vulnerable people, requiring support. They had been suffering from the operations on both sides of the conflict and faced a lack of medical assistance, lack of food, lack of sanitation, lack of many things. But seeing that our teams were able to provide nutritional treatment for malnourished kids, or deliver babies for women who had been displaced by the conflict, that was very rewarding. People would meet you in the street and say “MSF sano sano”, which means “thank you, thank you MSF”. This made me feel really happy and proud to work for this organisation.
What attributes do you think makes a good coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières?
Besides having the right qualifications, all life experiences are very valued. People management and good negotiation skills are essential. The job is suited to an open-minded person with the willingness to embrace and appreciate other cultures. Although Médecins Sans Frontières is an NGO in nature, many business practices are also applicable in this line of work.