In 2005, one of the subjects I researched was combining travel with volunteer opportunities all over the world. Volunteering is a great way of exploring different cultures while making a positive contribution to crisis regions.
Doctors Without Borders first caught my attention during the Tsunami Crisis. It is an organization that provides important medical relief to people in disaster-stricken areas. I felt compelled to find out more about this organization, about its philosophies and its recent missions.
Here is my 2005 interview with Isabelle Jeanson, National Press Officer Toronto with Doctors Without Borders.
Please tell us about Médécins Sans Frontières / Doctors without Borders. What type of organization is it? What philosophy is it based on?
We are the world’s leading independent international medical relief organization. Médecins Sans Frontières offers assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict, without discrimination and irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation. We also observe neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance.
Please tell us about the history of Doctors without Borders. Who founded the organization? How has it evolved since its inception?
MSF was originally founded in France in 1971 by a group of doctors and medical journalists who were concerned with the plight of populations in emergency situations. Since 1971, MSF has grown into 5 European operational sections, and 13 partner sections around the world. The Canadian office was founded in 1991, by a few Canadian doctors who came back to Canada from mission, and realized there was a need for an MSF presence in Canada.
How is your organization funded?
We are mostly funded by donations from the public (80%) and the rest from governments and foundations (20%).
Who can volunteer with Doctors without Borders? How many volunteers are there world-wide? Please tell us about the volunteer recruitment process.
Doctors, nurses, midwives, logisticians, project coordinators, financial coordinators, mental health specialists, social workers, and many other professionals can volunteer with Doctors without Borders. There are over 2000 volunteers working for MSF in the field, and hundreds more who work in offices around the world.
People who are interested should first visit our website: MSF.CA, that explains in detail what we look for in our candidates. Once an interested candidate has applied (either on-line or by mail), their application is revised by a recruitment officer. If their application is relevant to what we look for, they will be invited to an interview. If the interview is successful, the candidate will be offered pre-departure training prior to going on mission. The selection of their mission is based on the candidate’s skills which are matched to the needs of the field. The time needed to find the right mission for the right person can happen anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
Please comment on some of the risks and dangers that the volunteers face.
Security is of the outmost concern for MSF, for all of its volunteers and national staff. A security briefing is given to the volunteer prior to going on mission, and once they arrive at their mission. A volunteer is never forced to go on mission if they are concerned about their security. The volunteer is ultimately responsible for his or her security once they are on mission, however MSF provides excellent security protocols and systems to minimize the risk. If a volunteer is in a mission which becomes too insecure, he/she will be evacuated with his or her team to a secure environment.
What are the living conditions for the volunteers?
Volunteers will often live in a house shared by other international MSF volunteers. Housing, food, transportation and all other amenities are covered by MSF. Volunteers also receive a stipend as pocket money.
What critical missions has your organization been involved in recently?
Currently we are involved in a famine crisis in Niger; in the conflict in Darfur, West Sudan; in conflict areas in Democratic Republic of Congo; in mental health projects in Asia; in the tsunami relief in South-East Asia; and we offer AIDS treatment projects in dozens of countries around the world, to name only a few. MSF is currently working in over 70 countries around the world and manages hundreds of projects.
MSF also speaks out to end suffering and provides public education and informational events. Please tell us more about that.
Other than providing medical relief to populations in distress, MSF also has a mandate to speak-out or do “témoignage”. This basically means that we speak out against the atrocities or injustices that we witness in the field, to raise international public awareness about an issue that is otherwise forgotten or unknown by the world. We do this by speaking at public events, or giving interviews in the media or by publishing reports.
Please comment specifically on the situation now in South Asia, more than 6 months after the Tsunami Disaster.
We are currently still active in India and Indonesia, providing mental health counseling to the victims of the tsunami and basic health care.
Please tell us about the different ways of making a contribution to Doctors without Borders.
People can give to MSF through a variety of venues:
- Through Partners Without Borders, our monthly giving program
- By internet through our secure online giving form
- By fax or mail, in response to our annual campaign, or our special or emergency appeals
- By phone – we may call you, or you can contact us toll-free at 1-800-982-7903
- Through donations of publicly traded securities
- By leaving a contribution to MSF in your will
- By hosting or organizing a special event to benefit MSF
- By making a gift in honour of a birthday, anniversary, marriage or graduation of a friend or family member
- By making a gift in memory of a loved one who has passed on
- At work through matching gift programs
Thank you, Isabelle, for providing further information about your organization and the important missions and activities you are involved in. We wish you the best of luck in your humanitarian efforts. To read a longer version of this interview with photos, please visit Travel and Transitions.