Damien Moloney is a logistican and has worked in Chad, Niger, Haiti, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Mozambique.
Why did you decide to work with Médecins Sans Frontières?
I'm probably one of the only people in the world who could say that an episode of ER has changed my life. I was watching a rerun of the show and two of the doctors were off working with Médecins Sans Frontières. It was all very dramatic, running from rebels, dodging exploding grenades and bullets. I'd done a lot of rescue and first aid work in the United States, and thought that maybe the organisation might be looking for someone with my skills. So I looked at the website, and the more I read, the more impressed I was. I applied, was interviewed, and waited. And waited. When I finally got a letter I was so nervous, I couldn't bring myself to open it. Eventually I did and I can remember doing my ‘happy dance’ around my lounge room. I'm still smiling about how happy I am to be working for Médecins Sans Frontières.
You have just completed your sixth field placement with us. What has been the most challenging aspect and why?
There are lots of hard things about working for Médecins Sans Frontières: dealing with unforeseeable delays, developing country bureaucracy and red tape as we wait for life saving equipment and medication; being cooped up in the compound while you hear gun fire outside, knowing that you will be seeing victims the next morning; walking around a refugee camp of 90,000 people knowing that we live a life of luxury and privilege; going to work all day in the 50 degree heat; digging ditches and putting up tents, only for the rain and wind to destroy them overnight, and having to do it all again the next day; watching children die from preventable diseases like tetanus; and watching them suffer from malnutrition when we have an over-abundance of food in the developed world. All these things, and about a thousand others. But, and it’s a huge but, I wouldn't change what I do for anything.
"I wish there was a nice way to put this, but I'm an addict! I can't imagine doing anything else. I'll be a logistician until I'm too old to bang a nail or crawl under a Land Cruiser. I get a buzz from what I do, a physical sensation of joy. Not every day, and not all the time. But this is the most rewarding job I can imagine."
What has been the most enjoyable aspect for you?
If there are a thousand difficulties about working for Médecins Sans Frontières, there are a million joys. But possibly the most amazing thing is the staff, both international and national. We have the honour and privilege of going into a country that has been torn apart by war, or has suffered from a devastating earthquake, or has been ravaged by famine and drought for a decade, and we make a small but significant difference. When I see a desperately sick kid come into the hospital, on the verge of death, and see the worried face of the mother as she hovers helplessly around the bed while the doctors and nurses treat her child, I know that we will all do our best, just for that mother and child. The result isn't always happy, but when, three weeks, a month, or six months later, that mother and her child walk out of the hospital, I know that everyone – from the doctors and nurses who actually looked after them, to the logisticians who made sure the oxygen was working, to the cleaner who swept the floor, and all the way back to the office staff in Sydney who sent us to the field and the generous donors who make our work possible – contributed to the health of that child. And while we may not be able to save the world, we saved the life of that one child, and for that mother, we saved her flesh and blood, her world. And that is a joy that is impossible to replicate.
What exactly does a logistician do?
Imagine a doctor or nurse or surgeon going to the field to treat a patient. What do they need to help that patient? A building, to start with, so I build one. I've put doctors in tents and under trees with nothing but shade cloth over them, and I've built a massive container hospital and complicated operating theatres, and everything in between. They need medication, instruments, beds, fans, pillows and sheets, so I buy them, order them or make them. I make sure their cars, radios and computers work. I make sure there is electricity and clean water in the hospital and the house and that there are fridges and freezers to keep medication cold. I manage teams, sometimes up to 600 people, and together we dig ditches, put up tents and fences, install water systems and organise warehousing. And then, at least once a week, I cook a barbeque and we all sit and chat and laugh over a beer and for a couple of hours remember where we came from, and why we do what we do. And the next day I do it all again!
What personal skills do you think someone requires for this type of work?
Patience - lots and lots of patience. We have lots of patients; it’s the other kind you need! The ability to work hard, in the heat, in the dust, a long way from home. The ability to deal with frustration, despair, and misery. The ability to work and live in a team of very different people, and tolerate their foibles. You need understanding and tolerance, and at the same time the ability to stand up for what you believe in. Speaking another language helps, especially French or Arabic. For a logistician, knowing anything about electricity and construction will help wherever you go. Mostly, you need to be able to search for, then at least offer a solution to, any number of problems that arise.
Are you planning to continue working with us in the future?
I wish there was a nice way to put this, but I'm an addict! I can't imagine doing anything else. I'll be a logistician until I'm too old to bang a nail or crawl under a Land Cruiser. I get a buzz from what I do, a physical sensation of joy. Not every day, and not all the time. But this is the most rewarding job I can imagine.