"Before going to that session, I had thought MSF was an organization mostly for doctors and nurses"
Read the full story of Richard Mommersteeg's first mission to Central African Republic in the Summer 2014 issue of Dispatches
What led you to apply to MSF?
I was involved in the community and had volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, in orphanages, and with kids that I sponsor. I was looking into new opportunities over the internet, focusing on NGOs like MSF that help large groups of people. I went to an MSF information session and discovered that half the people MSF recruits are support staff. Before going to that session, I had thought that it was an organization mostly for doctors and nurses.
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What was the most challenging part of the recruitment process?
How quickly it all came together. I was retired and available and it made it easy [for MSF] to process my application. I applied in January, and two days later we started the process. The schedule was tight and there was a lot to do. I had to set the time aside for interviews, I had to think about vaccinations, I had to go to Rimouski [in Quebec] for two weeks of French classes.
What was the best piece of advice you received?
To prepare myself for potential isolation because of security issues. They explained to me I would be living in tight quarters on a base and wouldn’t have a lot of personal space, and that I should get used to the idea.
What are the responsibilities of a technical logistician?
You’re responsible for managing a lot of the national staff, including drivers and guards, and hiring daily workers for construction. Some days there were 40 people working for me. I was responsible for the generators, making sure the wiring to the base and hospital was working and safe. I was responsible for water, [and] keeping the base and hospital fuelled. Ordering oil and parts for vehicles and tracking usage. Ordering six to eight months of supplies from local and international sources; managing budgets.
How did your professional experience as a firefighter prepare you for your work in Central African Republic (CAR)?
I’ve seen a lot of death and destruction and misery. I’ve developed the ability to ramp up and have the adrenaline rush during a crisis and then, when things quiet down, to relax again … .A lot of staff did not take time for themselves, they didn’t shut down. And so I saw some leave early. They burned out.