Project Coordinator, Claire Manera: Life on assignment

19 Oct 2023

Claire has worked on several assignments with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a project coordinator and as head of program. Her first assignment was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she then worked in Yemen and Iraq. After that she spent one year with the Emergency team where she worked in various countries including Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Haiti. She kindly spoke to us about her varied career with MSF. 

Claire Manera

Why did you join Médecins Sans Frontières?

I spent years working with other international non-government organisations and always admired Médecins Sans Frontières, because they’d go to the places no one else would go. They would get there before anyone else, and they wouldn’t leave when things got worse. They're the ones that would stay.

What does it take to be a project coordinator?

You need to believe that you can get through any situation, because everyone looks to you for reassurance. You need to be positive for your team and be prepared to figure out what to do, even if you don’t know what you’re doing! A big part of the role is problem solving.

When cholera came to Yemen in 2017, we all froze in panic. Especially as there was already a war going on and the country was really suffering. But the locally hired staff set up the cholera treatment centre within 48 hours by following the MSF guidebook. They did an amazing job. At the start there were 100 patients a day coming through and by the time I left there were none. It was an incredible achievement for the team. 


An MSF Landcruiser that Claire and her team travelled in became submerged when trying to cross the river, and was recovered with the help of people in the community.

What are the best parts of the project coordinator role?

As a project coordinator, you are on the ground with the team so you meet people who are really at the core of the project and you are there beside them. A big part of the role is sitting with people and listening to them, because that's the way you get to know what's really going on. Talking to the local commander talking about football is the best way to find out where the fighting is, or hanging out with women in their fields is when they'll tell you what they really need. You meet the bravest people that way and hear their inspiring stories.

How does working in an emergency team compare to working on an ongoing project?

It's exciting and terrifying to work in an emergency team. You always have to be ready to go at short notice and often you don’t know what you’ll be doing until you’re on your way, so you try to figure it out on the plane, and then you arrive to a team of people that you have to coordinate. But MSF has so many experienced people, especially on emergency teams, which means everyone brings amazing ideas to the table.

In regular projects, the work involves building on what's already there. When I was in Haiti, we had to open a trauma hospital, when the population was rioting. Everything was set on fire in the streets, but the rioters would move everything aside to let us through. That’s because the locals knew MSF from being there for so many years, and they knew we did high quality work.  

You can make a difference that is more long-lasting on a fixed project, as you build relationships and trust with local colleagues and the community. When you leave, the local staff are the ones that carry on the work, which makes the project sustainable.

You have just returned from Kayna, Democratic Republic of Congo, what work are you most proud of from this assignment?

The medical team trained mothers to do nutrition screening themselves with MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) tapes. It meant that women could monitor malnutrition and would know when to get to the hospital for treatment. We would give children that we admitted to the hospital a kit that included things like a bucket, soap and a blanket to take home. This was something we could offer that was also motivation to come and get treatment. But many mothers were still having to make difficult choices: ‘Do I stay where I am and feed my other children or do I walk three hours to seek treatment at the health centre?’, often risking their lives to walk alone and very often, facing sexual violence. They don't have money to pay for treatment, so it was good that MSF was there to provide this for free.

Claire in D.R.C.

Claire working as project coordinator in the DRC alongside Ministry of Health staff, finding ways to treat Ebola patients in local health centres using an innovative community-based approach.

What keeps you coming back to work with Médecins Sans Frontières?

There’s nothing I would rather be doing than this job and I feel lucky to be able to do it. I sometimes feel more at home when I’m away on assignment, because with MSF you are all working together to help as many people as you can. Being around all of these amazing people, who have so many different experiences and stories, inspires me to keep doing it.


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