HR/Finance project manager Jessie Watson returns from Gaza

05 Mar 2024

Jessie Watson recently swapped her Marlborough farm for three weeks in Gaza as a HR/Finance project manager for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). 

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My first assignment with MSF was in 2017, and I’ve been on several projects since – six months in South Sudan, three months each in Bangladesh, Ukraine and Yemen. 

Assignments for MSF’s international staff inside Gaza are much shorter given the challenging environment.
Compared with other assignments, this was the worst situation I’d ever seen: the sheer number of people living on the streets, constant bombing, knowing they have moved from homes that are now completely in rubble, all of the cities in rubble. Every person you talked to, every colleague, has a story, family members they have lost. I don’t know anybody whose house is still standing. One of the major challenges was the struggle with communications. I worked in HR, admin and finance and the connection was off for many days. Communication with friends and family was also very hard. As you can see on the news, it’s definitely pretty bad. We would go to the hospital and see bodies being pulled out of the rubble by a donkey cart, or the kids on the street in the pouring rain.

Outside of work, we lived communally. On a typical day, anywhere between 16 and 20 of us would have breakfast together in the guesthouse. Usually, it was bread and some beans or hummus with tomatoes. It’s tasty. We didn’t have time to have lunch – just some snacks during the day. We would get up before 7am, and then wait for the green light before we moved to the hospital. By 8am, there was usually a queue of people wanting to get to the outpatient department (OPD). Lots of amputations, wound dressings, burn dressings, rehabilitation if there are crush injuries, and counselling.

Then, upstairs to the office, and most of my time in the admin department was spent paying our daily workers. Our projects were mostly in the north in Gaza City, and after the evacuation orders, we moved down to Rafah and opened an OPD and OT [occupational therapy] at Rafah Indonesian Field Hospital. OPD runs six days a week with about 150 consultations a day. When I first arrived in Gaza, there was no internet and no cellphone coverage. It made it hard to call everyone and get to know everyone, to see if they could come to work or not. 

Another thing I found surprising was the resilience of people ‒ they’re amazing. Everybody you meet will show you a picture of their home before and after, with videos of rubble and burnt-out apartments. But
every morning, our colleagues greet us with a smile: “Kaif halik [How are you]?” They are very, very hospitable and so generous with their time, even in this terrible situation. It’s a real testament to the Palestinian people. Of course, even in the middle of war, there are lighter moments. You see a camel hustling down the street and kids running after it. Palestinians try to keep on living the best they can but it’s hard when you are being forced into a corner and bombings are going on. 

The people of Gaza have literally lost everything – clothes, cars, houses, friends, family – so being able to access good medical care by MSF is incredibly important and well received.

Jessie Watson

I want to say thank you to those of you who have been supporting our emergency work here in Gaza. What is most important now is a sustained ceasefire to stop the loss of more civilian lives, enabling the flow of humanitarian assistance for the 2.2 million people living in the Gaza Strip.

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As an independent and impartial medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières can respond rapidly to emergency situations and deliver urgent medical treatment to people in need, no matter who they are.
By making a donation, you can help ensure that MSF staff can provide medical assistance during times of crises where it is needed most—both in Gaza, and around the world.