By McKenzie Ross
Rafah Ali and Basil Abdullah are a married couple from Mississauga, Ontario, who each recently resigned from their respective medical jobs in Canada in order to work overseas with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The pair had decided it was time to recommit themselves to a common goal of giving back.
"Ever since our younger years, Rafah and I often talked about devoting some of our years to humanitarian work when the time is right," says Abdullah. "One of our proudest moments was when we received our offers of acceptance to the MSF team."
Ali and Abdullah feel that MSF aligns well with their goals, especially the organization's commitment to neutrality and impartiality. "Being from different ethnic backgrounds ourselves, Rafah and I value the perspectives we each bring to the table and believe that our differences make us more powerful," says Abdullah. "One of the reasons that brought us together was our shared belief that all people are worthy of our help regardless of their colour, ethnicity, belief and origin."
Treating people affected by crisis in Syria, Jordan and Iraq
Ali and Abdullah both have extensive experience in the medical field, and they submitted separate applications to MSF. Ali holds a medical degree and a post-graduate degree in community medicine, and Abdullah is a consultant radiologist. Both are acting as medical activity managers in their respective field placements with MSF.
Ali recently returned to Canada from her three-month posting with MSF in Irbid, Jordan, where she was working at a non-communicable diseases (NCD) project. The main beneficiaries of the project were Syrian refugees, generally aged 40 and older, suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. If not treated, patients can experience serious complications, like gangrene, cardiovascular issues and blindness.
'Being from different ethnic backgrounds ourselves, Rafah and I value the perspectives we each bring to the table and believe that our differences make us more powerful'
"In addition most of them had some mental crises, especially coming from conflict areas. Many are by themselves without the support of their kids, the working age group. Most people of younger age were still in Syria," she says.
Less than two months after finishing her first MSF mission, Ali returned to the field to work on another NCD project, this time with internally displaced people in Iraq. She is excited about the challenges she will face. "It’s a new project and the context there is different. I lived in Iraq of course previously, but I left Iraq 21 years ago, I don’t know if things are the same," she says.
'Rafah and I are absolutely thankful'
While Ali heads out to begin her second posting with MSF, her husband will still be completing his first. Abdullah is the medical activity manager of a tuberculosis (TB) project in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan, where MSF is providing diagnostic and therapeutic support to the existing health system. It also supplies anti-TB drugs and runs scientific research on better ways to manage TB. Abdullah's team currently runs a nine-month treatment program for patients, which has recently been adopted by the WHO to be the global standard protocol for managing TB.
Both Ali and Abdullah are grateful for the time that they have been able to spend with MSF in the field. "Rafah and I are absolutely thankful that we get to contribute to reducing the suffering from the tired miserable faces of our brothers and sisters in humanity," says Abdullah. "Although it has been difficult being away from our family on these missions, we truly believe that we are well on our way to achieving the goal that we have set together. Our support for each other and the support from our family and the MSF team has made achieving our goal much more manageable."