© Christophe Da Silva/Hans Lucas
26 Dec 17
Sarah Leahy Sarah Leahy IrishProject CoordinatorIndia

Christmas in Central African Republic (CAR)

I am on my first mission with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) working on the coordination team in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), as HR and Finance Manager.

It's my first Christmas away from my family and friends. I've almost forgotten about the festive season as things are so different here. The heat is intense and there isn't too much in the way of decorations or Christmas trees. I've only been here for a couple of weeks but I convinced the team that we need a cat in the compound and we adopted a kitten yesterday! She's the best fed, most adored cat in Bangui already!

Humanitarian needs in CAR are immense 

The humanitarian needs in CAR are immense and around half of the population rely on aid. There are hundreds of thousands of victims of fighting and displacement in the country. Malaria, HIV, malnutrition and measles are endemic and require constant vaccination and treatment. 

MSF has a large operation and a huge impact in the country. We have a big coordination team in the capital and 9 projects in the field. High levels of insecurity mean that some people across CAR can’t access medical care and there are times when we can’t reach them either. That said, where possible our outreach teams manage to run some vaccination clinics and health promotion campaigns among the local population and we also treat wounded victims in the active conflict areas.” Mental health issues are also treated and we provide maternity care too.

CAR challenges

MSF has achieved a huge amount here. CAR is a country with many layers and immense challenges are presented daily. We manage to carry out our work as best possible, but insecurity does prevent us from accessing all the areas that we’d like and were unable to provide people with the healthcare they need and deserve.

Every day is different. CAR has poor banking facilities that are limited to the confines of the city so there are many logistical challenges relating to finance at a national level. Our HR department is always extremely busy dealing with national and international staff as well as contractors.     

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It's going really well so far, it’s very intense and busy and I’m looking forward to a day off, spending Christmas day with 10 of my colleagues here in Bangui. I'm looking forward to sampling some local beers and maybe even splash out on some wine. 

My Christmas Day 

On Christmas day we're going to have a mixed food pot day where each person cooks something from their country. I'll be flying the flag for Ireland and making some roast potatoes I think!

There are a few parties at Christmas time here with food and drinks. We must respect our curfews so I'll be tucked up in bed well before midnight on New Year's Eve!

I will miss my Mum, Dad and sister, Andrea, very much over Christmas. Thankfully I usually have access to reasonably good wifi so I will skype them on Christmas day. I WhatsApp them most days when possible. I left a few small gifts and cards with my mum to put under the tree for close family before I left - I'm very organised!

In Ireland, Christmas is always a lovely, homely time of year for me with a couple of weeks rest from work. Things are very different this year! Christmas day is always a quiet affair at home with beautiful food, open fires and lots of books to read and wine to drink - I'll miss all of that.

Despite missing Christmas, I’m really happy to be here. I hope to support the coordination team here in Bangui over the next 9 months to ensure that we can carry out our support work as best as possible. In the New Year, I would like to go out into our projects in different provinces around the country and work for a few weeks in each.

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