“I will carry the memories I made in the Congo for life”
My name is Samy Gerges. I’m 26 years old and hold a degree in advertising, but until recently I worked as a supply chain officer in a petrochemicals trading company.
I’ve always wanted to go into the humanitarian field where my work would really help others, not help them make money only.
So, I started looking for opportunities in local and international organisations, including MSF. I did some reading on each one of them to know more about where they work and the services they offer.
I identified with MSF more than other NGOs, particularly as a medical humanitarian organisation that is far from politics and agendas.
I applied on its regional recruitment website in the hopes of joining its teams in the field, and after a couple of months, I got the acceptance letter.
At first, I was shocked. I went on to tell my mother, who was aware of my interest in shifting my career from the private sector in Lebanon, then I told my friends with great excitement.
Next destination: the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lebanon to Congo
I travelled from Beirut to Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, and I went from the airport straight to MSF’s base.
The trip took us though rough terrain and and a huge variety of different scenes. I’ve always wanted to work in DRC, and I was aware of the economic situation and social disparities through the media and social media platforms. But being there made it all much more real.
People in DRC are dealing with an unstable political setup, and some are also facing homelessness, malnutrition or epidemic outbreaks.
Some of the MSF hospitals I worked in are the only available hospitals in their regions.
We treat patients who have been victims of conflict or sexual violence, including children who have received fatal injuries, such as machete wounds.
I remember very well when a five-year-old girl, who had been hit by a sharp weapon on the head, was brought to us. Our medical team gave her the necessary care, but, sadly, she didn’t make it. I was the one who prepared the paperwork for her burial and I was there during her funeral. It wasn’t easy for me and I don’t like to think of that incident.
A couple of months cannot sum up a whole experience, nor can a couple of paragraphs.
One time I was doing a round at the hospital and I saw a child in one of the beds. He was very small and weighed just 16 kilograms (around 35lbs). He was so thin that his skin seemed to be covering just bones. I asked the nurse about his age, and was shocked to learn he was 10 years old.
I had seen people suffering with malnutrition in documentaries, but that was the first time I saw someone with my own eyes. It was very painful. The child was an orphan who was found on the street and brought to our facility.
Thankfully, he got better as weeks passed by. He was eating well, and he started to interact with me more.
A new perspective on poverty
Malnutrition is common in DRC due to the tough economic situation. However, the country also suffers from epidemics such as cholera, malaria and an ongoing Ebola outbreak in the northwest.
But, despite all that, I feel that my work has a meaning. What I do is needed because it contributes to helping people who are in most need.
For me, my idea of poverty has changed. Some families in Lebanon are impoverished, yet it’s very different compared to what I’ve seen in DRC. Material possessions didn’t matter to me before, but they mean even less and less now. I’ve become more aware of the notions of suffering and need.
A couple of months cannot sum up a whole experience, nor can a couple of paragraphs. I’m sure that the future has a lot in store for me.
My new family
I worked as a supply chain manager, supervising all supply activities at MSF’s base, warehouse and hospital in Kananga.
Some of my main tasks were keeping the supply chain department functioning properly, managing the logistics of medical supplies and incoming and outgoing shipments, as well as coordinating with other projects while upholding MSF’s rules and regulations.
I was also responsible for the development of the team’s capacities and ensuring all team members were doing their jobs.
From the moment I met the team working in the project, I felt that we were one big family.
The way the team welcomes newcomers makes it easier for us to adapt and alleviates the longing for our families back home. Over the months we’d spend time together during weekdays and weekends.
One thing I took time to adapt to is the use of “mum” and “dad” in DRC, used not only towards one’s parents, but as a respectful way to refer to any elderly people.