Personal Views

With Merlin in Rwanda

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 04 March 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:606
  1. Joanna C Porter

    If you are considering a job in humanitarian relief it is worth taking time over finding the right aid agency. There are many non-governmental organisations with differing strengths and capabilities. I was attracted to Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) by its philosophy, the nature of its programmes, and the personal stance of a small group. Three weeks after crossing the threshold I was recruited for the Rwandan programme. Before we left we were briefed over iced water in an August heat wave. Politics, safety, what to wear, take, say, and avoid saying were discussed at length. No question was deemed too trivial to remain unanswered. The programme was to comprise a measles immunisation team with a second dedicated to curative care. Equipment and housing had been arranged during the initial evaluation so we could start immediately. The measles team left for Africa and I followed three days later.

    Home for the four of us was a wattle house without water and electricity two km from the town of Gikongoro in south west Rwanda. Our simple lifestyle, which included sun down queuing with the children at the town's only water tap, evenings spent talking and eating to the last light of dusk, and nights asleep on rush mats gave us a false glow of moral superiority over some of the other workers with their comfortable accommodation, water on tap, and generators. But soon we, too, were reluctantly transported into the 20th century and a large well equipped town …

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