03 Nov 16 05 May 17

Paul van den Bosch

Paul was working as a Medical Activity Manager in Jordan over Christmas in 2016. Find out more about him and what it's like working for MSF in Jordan.

What made you want to work for MSF?

I left my practice in the UK and I wanted to work overseas, especially with an organisation which I knew to be effective.

Is this your first mission?

This is my first time working with MSF. I did work for VSO for five years in Zambia in the 80s. I also worked in The Solomon Islands in the 90s with the Department for International Development (DFiD). Most of my medical career has been as a GP in the UK.

Can you tell us about the project?

The programme aims to manage non-communicable diseases (NCDs), caring for Syrian refugees living in the north of Jordan. The majority of refugees live in towns and villages rather than camps but life remains very difficult for them. They are not only living in distress resulting from the loss of their homes and sometimes family members, but they are not legally allowed to work.

Although they can use the local health service for urgent problems, they cannot use it for their chronic problems such as diabetes and heart disease. MSF’s clinic in Irbid aims to fill this gap treating patients for chronic diseases which is very much a new focus for us.

Has anything surprised you so far about your mission?

Jordan has been very welcoming but there is great variation between the prosperous and the poor, both amongst the Jordanian people and the Syrian population. I also hadn’t realised quite how large MSF is until I started working here.

Can you describe a typical day?

My role is to supervise, support and try to ensure that the young, able, but often relatively inexperienced, Jordanian doctors and nurses are enabled to do the best possible job for the patients. This means being alongside them in the clinics, discussing clinical problems, running education sessions, developing protocols and a host of other supervisory activities. But while perhaps half my time is spent in clinics or on home visits with staff, the other half is spent in meetings and in front of a computer!

The clinics only operate during office hours so for the first time in my working life, I am free for evenings and nights.

Will you speak to your family over Christmas?

I miss my family although my wife has been out to visit me twice and I have been back to the UK. Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime keep us in touch in a way that was unimaginable in my previous missions overseas. The Internet service here is generally fairly good so I certainly expect to be in touch at Christmas, although it will be the first one for my wife and I to be apart for nearly 40 years.

What have you found the most challenging?

The challenges are in trying to provide the best possible service with other people who may share the same ambition but want to do it in a different way. We have robust and sometimes difficult discussions but remain friends in the end.

What is it like living in Jordan?

Jordan has virtually everything one could need but one of the best aspects of working for MSF is the range of people you have the privilege of meeting. I was at a party yesterday with a group of about 15 people and I ran out of fingers counting the nationalities. There is so much food but most of it rather high calorie so I am starting to miss home cooking.

Did you forget to pack anything?

The things I miss are not ones that can be sent, unfortunately. I have yet to find a restaurant where I really enjoy the food (none of them will serve a glass of wine or beer) and there are no concerts, but perhaps what I miss most is that there is nowhere nearby that one can walk. We live in a noisy urban environment with little in the way of green space.

What would you say to MSF donors who are supporting MSF this Christmas?

However much we grumble about our difficulties (and most of us do), we usually have control over much of our life and some freedom to make choices. Most of our patients here in Jordan do not have this luxury so MSF’s work here is really important. 

What would you be doing if you were at home for Christmas?

Probably eating rather too much dinner and then going on a family walk.

Is there any one person that stands out for you from your mission?

Two people who stand out for me are Jordanian doctors in the clinic. They are, as are young doctors in the UK, thoughtful, questioning and ambitious. They are professional, kind and committed to helping serve the patients. We in MSF need to do our best to help nurture these qualities as they will be around long after we have moved on.