Life is often what we make it, for many there is no choice as circumstances dictate otherwise through no fault of their own. I was honoured to have met an awe-inspiring man who is using his own good fortune and talents to assist those who do not have the power to choose as so many of us in developed nations enjoy, his name, ‘Just Another Guy’; Jag for short and this is his story.

Jag, as you have already realized is a Pseudonym and he was willing to share some personal insight into his life as a member of the Canadian branch of an organization called Doctor’s Without Boarders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF for short), with some provisions.

To be honest, while I have known Jag for some time I was not aware of his affiliation with MSF and it was by pure accident I found out, via another source. Jag is one of those rare individuals that do good deeds because they care as opposed to doing it for public recognition and glory.

My inquisitive juices flowing I had approached him with my limited information and explained that I desired to interview him for an article and why. After listening to my proposition, and after some deep thought and bewilderment on his part he finally agreed. He did question me as to how I found out about his alternate lifestyle in the first place but as I had agreed with the individual who had told me, I had to decline to divulge my source to which he understood when I explained why. (True to my word to my original sources I did not divulge to Jag, or anyone else, how I found out about his work with MSF and have not to this day)

I would like to point out that as previously noted; Jag authorized me to use the details written in this article with the stipulation his (Jag’s) real name, and any physical description that might help to identify him, was not published for personal and security reasons.
I had limited time to interview and glean what I felt was the most beneficial information possible, as Jag, being the humanitarian I had come to know and respect was already preparing for a new mission, Jag was heading to Haiti. Following are the brief questions I had time to ask and obtain his answers in return.

Question: I recall you were taking a sabbatical if you will after your stint in the Sudan. What was it like there and what caused you to want to choose not to go back into Africa at this time if you will. I recall you mentioned I do believe the Sudan. My question is, “Was your sabbatical based on what you experienced in the Sudan?”

Jag: “I returned from Sudan a bit more than a year ago. It was an immensely challenging mission. I lost 40 lbs in 5 months, I had high blood pressure when I got back, I was stressed. It was an interesting project, with interesting people. I accepted a mission that I was quite ready for. I needed more experience. However, I did a good job, I kept things running despite serious obstacles. I’m not too comfortable talking about some of the things that happened out there on a forum as expansive as the internet, so I’m going to remain a bit vague here.”

There was an option for me to go to a different country instead of Haiti, back in Africa. I have no hesitation to return to Africa. I love Africa; it holds a pull that I can’t really describe. Once you go, you’ll know what I mean. There is so much hope there, so much intensity, so much love and in the face of adversities like conflict, serious diseases, political instability and ethnic tensions. Yet, it’s a place of inspiration. I can’t describe it with justice.

I chose Haiti over the project in Africa this time because it is more in line with the direction that I wish to follow. I’ve worked in conflict zones and with malnutrition projects, both heavy components of MSF’s work. One of the other sides of MSF is disaster response. Unfortunately, for Haiti, less than a year after a devastating hurricane another crippling blow came in the form of the January earthquake. I was not able to respond with the initial emergency due to commitments here in Vancouver, and was in constant communication to respond in March.”

Question: I understand you are heading to Haiti to help build a hospital, which I find to be very commendable. My question is what part will you play in the construction of the hospital and would you as part of your contract be available if needed to perform other duties to assist the Haitians in their recovery from the quake?

Jag: “The position I’m assuming in Haiti is the construction logistician for a new hospital in Port-au-Prince. I’m not really sure what to expect. I usually just hit the ground running, and do what is needed, when it’s needed. Technically speaking, a construction log tends to oversee the construction, assure that it’s built to specifications and to train the national staff that will be doing the physical construction. A lot of working with MSF is managing and delegating. It tends to be to the advantage of all parties to allow/enable the national staff to take as much responsibility as possible. I’m all for promoting the independence and self-sustainability of those that I aim to aid.”

Question: One puzzling question that keeps coming to mind and that is how did you become involved with, ‘Doctors Without Borders (MSF)’, and why?

Jag: “Three years ago while working at an engineering firm based out of North Vancouver I was on a field project on Vancouver Island. On weekends, I would head to either Tofino or another secret spot to surf. One particular weekend, heading back from a surf trip I picked up a hitchhiker that needed a ride to the ferries that would take her back to Vancouver.

She had previously worked with WarChild International, another humanitarian aid agency. We got to talking, and I expressed that I was feeling like I was capable than I was being pushed in my present capacity, that I was looking to do something that would put all of my technical and engineering skills to use. I wanted to contribute to this world that has been so kind to me. Reciprocation perhaps.

When she said that I’d have my metal tested working with Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF (or Doctors Without Borders), I questioned her listening skills, I after all was/am not in any way medically trained. She suggested I take a look at MSF’s website and that the position of Logistician would suit me well.

Three months later, I was on a flight to Bonn in Germany for my pre-departure training. The rest is history.”

Question: You mentioned that you are a paid volunteer and the position allows you to save some money. That raises the following question: Does your contractual agreement provide, besides what sounds like a small monetary pay, food and lodging or do you have to cover those expenses yourself including travel expenses?

Jag: “MSF covers transport to and from projects, as well as a per diem in the field that tends to cover most personal needs. Lodging is also provided, while food costs are generally subtracted from the allotted per diem. A small financial stipend is provided to help cover costs/bills at home. But then doing this work isn’t about the money.”

Question: What is your position or qualifications in respect to your services that you provide? By that I mean, what services do they hire you to perform and what are your qualifications?

Jag: “My position varies based on the project. My next posting in Haiti I will be a construction logistician. But initially I was “hired” to be an all-round logistician. Essentially a “Jack of all trades” a logistician is likened to the spine of a vertebrate, you don’t see us, you don’t hear us, but we’re always working to make sure that the project maintains is operational capacity. That means being responsible for everything from vehicle mechanics, IT, communications, electricity, sanitation, water to security and supply.

We aren’t physically saving lives, we’re just there to make sure that the medical staff can.

As for my skills/qualifications, I grew up working on my parents farms and on a neighbours large dairy farm, this is where I learnt or developed skills in mechanics, electrical wiring, plumbing, welding, construction and the overall ingenuity to figure out how to fix or make things happen given what we had at our disposal.

In high school, I figured out that I wouldn’t play professional sports, and had to figure out a field that suited me. It turned out that Civil Engineering was the fit at that time, so I went to McGill and graduated with a Bachelor in Civil Engineering. A few years later, combining my technical skills with an education, and I suppose MSF saw a suitable candidate.”

Question: Any information about past contracts and what you see for the future greatly appreciated, as I know you are pressed for time.

Jag: “I’ve worked previously in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in the semi-autonomous state of South Sudan. I’ll see if I can come up with anything short and sweet for this question in the next couple of days… I’m not 100% sure I’ll have time to do so though.”

Jag was not able to contribute more as he had hoped but what he did share enabled me to see a real man who has found his own inner peace as he puts others ahead of both himself and monetary wealth. We have agreed to stay in touch and I for one will look forward to hearing from him as his time allows.

I was able to later access Jag’s personal blog, where he writes notations and updates for family and close friends. Even here, he is ever the humble self-sacrificing individual so many have come to love and respect.

Jag writes in his own words: “Haiti happened. MSF called, we talked, I wanted to be here for the Olympics, the Olympic people called, they wanted a volunteer driver for the Opening and Closing ceremonies, and parts in-between, called MSF, we talked, about me going to help rebuild post emergency, for probably a year, building a hospital or three, likely in March, pretty stoked, but I’m leaving again, settling down, placing roots once again back-burned, not dating anyone once more.”

In earlier times, he writes, “I wish I could paint this picture with words. Even if most of you might not know what plastic sheeting and shadow nets are, I think you can appreciate it based on what follows.

But imagine parched earth, giant two-inch eggshell pattern cracks in the dirt as far as an eye can see. Think of how a shattered windshield would look to an ant then magnify it to our abilities at perception and you’ll have an idea what I am talking, about well aside from the colour, that is.

Shadow net is exactly what it says, nets tied to poles or trees (if you can find one) that are about 3-5m off the ground, erected to give shadow, to protect us from the unrelenting and scorching sun. Plastic sheeting is essentially just a plastic, rip resistant tarpaulin on a 250m roll. Our compound walls and office roof are made from plastic sheeting and sticks, not the best for any kind of protection but it keeps folks from seeing inside…

Think of relying on satellite for all communication to the capital and Geneva HQ. Think of talking on a sat phone, knowing you can’t walk and talk, or be inside. Or imagine the frustration when you can’t get through and you need to, or worse when you do and the call drops and you have to repeat the process all over again. Try to dream of living and having your storage in tents, for months. Giant white canvas tents, and even with shadow nets the inside can and usually does reach 50 C.

For me, I love to be in the field, even with the heat, the plastic sheeting and shadow nets. The poor conditions and not exactly gourmet food, the struggle and challenges of it all are the fun parts. The challenges of management that are my day-to-day struggle in Juba are less fun. But to be fair, my attitude has changed. I am more positive, I have to be, I couldn’t last the three-four months here if I didn’t.

Think of all of this, and perhaps you might get to experience a bit of Africa and not have to leave the comfort of home. Ahhh, some days I wish I had done that.”

“ – Giving blood to help the Medics save an infants life, twice. I already put a post on this, so I won’t elaborate, other than to say that the second time is just as special.”

Another time Jag writes, “ – Watching a cesarean. Those who know me well know that I am fairly squeamish. So why would I subject myself to watching such an intense surgery? I feel as though I have to confront my fears so that they no longer remain a fear. Did it work? Hells no. This was real fear, I starting sweating that awful cold sticky sweat, my mouth dryed up, I couldn’t breath, all I wanted to do was rip off the face-mask as it was seriously suffocating me, I was too hot, I got dizzy, there was a period of at least two minutes where my eyes were open and yet I saw nothing. I sought solace in the cool of the concrete wall. Cut, cut, stretch, stretch, pull, pull, snip, snip, sew back up and sew back up. 25 minutes later, she was already in the process of recovery, the baby crying and me whimpering. In all fairness it was by far one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I know now though that if someday I find me a wife, and she needs a cesarean, I know which end of the operating gurney I will stay at. Thank you Dr. Claudine and Dr. Claude, I will never ever forget that experience.”

” – Seeing a baby in an incubator, I think that two of my fingers and my thumb would have had the same mass. Without MSF this baby would never make it.”

(There was more, so much more, but now you have some insight into why I feel honoured to have met Jag and why I look forward to hearing from him again when time permits him to do so. I may not have his vitality and youth but his inspiration is contagious just the same, which made it an honour to be able to tell his story abet as brief as it is)

I had both heard and read about Doctor’s Without Boarders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and some of the services they provided but had not really given it much further thought until I met Jag and then I started to recall all the good things I had heard and read. Unlike the Red Cross, which, based on the horror stories of Red Cross corruption from my family and Uncles who served in WW2, still leave a bad taste in my mouth. According to other, present day sources, the Red Crosses corporate attitude of for profit has not improved and is only preceded by the highly paid United Nations staff/contractors.

MSF is the only one, based on my research, that presently leaves me with a good feeling about their services, especially after meeting Jag who gave me such great insight into the workings of MSF, or at least as much as he was able to tell me without breaking any obligations he was sworn not to divulge for safety reasons. As Jag stated, unlike the other groups, MSF will do whatever it takes, often at great risk to get to where they are needed, be it by Plane, SUV, Donkey or even Walking… The people they are there to help come first against all odds.

From my personal observations and research of Jag the man, I found rare qualities that most of us in our daily personal quests are devoid of as we seek personal riches without any thought of the welfare of our less fortunate fellow beings. Jag it seems, is a man who resoundingly puts others ahead of himself and while one day desiring to find a mate and settle down to a home and family of his own, continues in the meanwhile on his present course of putting others first ahead of himself and any monetary gain.

MSF field news… (Dated March 12, 2010) “Currently, MSF has 348 international staff in Haiti working closely with over 3,000 Haitian staff. With the expansion of services, the 26 MSF hospitals and health centres can accommodate 1,346 inpatients. In the last two months, MSF teams have performed more than 3,700 surgeries, provided psychological counselling to more than 22,000 people, and treated 54,789 patients….“

MSF, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Canadian connection
“The recent Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) comes as something of a shock…” “it is a shock not only because the media spotlight that is focused on Nobel Peace Prize recipients shines so brightly, but also because such “official” recognition is unfamiliar and, perhaps, a little uncomfortable to MSF volunteers.” …Michael Schull, MD. Schull served as president of MSF Canada for five-(5) years.

MSF was born in the early 1970s out of the exasperation of a group of French doctors who worked in desperate conditions in the Biafra War (1967-1970). “They were determined to create a movement to deliver independent humanitarian aid wherever it was needed, and one that would speak out about the plight of the victims it helped.”

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS SPOTLIGHT SUDAN
“A violent attack in Jonglei State, Southern Sudan, at the end of August resulted in the reported deaths of 42 people. MSF is mobilizing resources to help victims of the attack, which injured more than 60 and displaced up to 24,000.”

In conclusion I would like to thank Jag, for allowing me to get to know the real him as a person and for taking the time to answer my questions and allowing me insight into MSF from an insider’s view. I also want to thank not only Jag, but also all the men and women of MSF for their unending dedication and hard work those for the less fortunate.

While awaiting Jags approval on the final draft of this article I received a message from Jag that the mission to Haiti was canceled due the kidnapping of two Swiss nurses who work for MSF. Sad news for the people of Haiti who really need the help but the good news is they, the nurses, were released unharmed and without having to pay a ransom.

Hello Al,

“I am not going to Haiti. Quite a few non-essential staff were sent home, and a few people like me are no longer going. The two Swiss nurses were returned safely and the ransom was not paid. MSF is in a process of determining their next steps in that country. They/we do not respond well to kidnapping. On the whole, it’s difficult not to feel disheartened when such seemingly selfish incidents occur.

The same day that I was informed that my project in Port au Prince was scrapped I was offered the same position as previously back in Africa, AND, the engineering company that I worked at before MSF just happened to let me know that they had a position for me in (blank as requested) if I was interested. So…I’m going to (blank as requested) tomorrow to have lunch with the guys and see if we’re still a good fit.

It looks like I might be putting up the traveling hat for a while, putting my foot back in the door of the engineering world, and perhaps most importantly creating a bit of congruency back into my life. I’ll keep you posted…”

Jag…

Haiti appeal… “We are not currently accepting donations specifically for Haiti on our website. You can still donate to our emergency medical work around the world through our general fund using the links…” Click here for details.

Advertisements