© Khaula Jamil
19 Mar 21
Ijaz ZarinIjaz ZarinPakistaniProject CoordinatorPakistan

Pakistan: "Every end is a new beginning"

I first started working with MSF as security focal point and liaison officer in 2009. In 2011, I was given the responsibility of Field Coordinator Assistant, and later as Deputy Project Coordinator in 2017. The first day at a new job can be among the most memorable and perhaps stressful of your career.

A humble reception

In the words of Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert, “Most of us remember our first days at every job because of the heightened pressure to impress and to make a mark!”

Emergency department of the District Headquarter (DHQ) Hospital in Timergara.

I was given briefings about the Timergara project, with an agenda to be used for my daily activities for the year 2009. This practice of receiving new agendas annually has continued and I have a collection of these books.

Being a humanitarian worker is a calling, not just a job

I was no different, with thoughts to apply the same tried and tested means to stand out in a crowd of new faces.

But, these thoughts were washed away by the very humble and philanthropic reception I had with those first interactions with my new MSF colleagues. It’s a feeling I still have now, even as I write these words over a decade after joining MSF.

The journey

I never thought of this as a long journey, and the passion for humanitarian work has driven me to continue all these years. A passion that has grown and consolidated.

A view of the waiting area outside the emergency department in Timergara district headquarters hospital, Lower Dir.

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Now this journey is ending, and I am left with an overwhelming number of memories made with thousands of local staff and hundreds of international staff colleagues who have served the community here in Lower Dir.

Being a humanitarian worker is a calling, not just a job. There is often no clear distinction between work and the rest of your life.

I have a passion for the job and then I have also spent five years being available for the project 24/7, according to needs.


I have many memories such as international staff struggling with their traditional Shalwar Kameez clothing.

Staff and community members hugging but forgetting to shake hands and feeling embarrassed (in the local culture after a hug a handshake is mandatory).

Organising Pashto language classes with staff in exchange for French classes.

The mental health team in Timergara conduct a group counselling session with the caretakers of pregnant women admitted to Timergara District Headquarters Hospital, Lower Dir.

I remember once coming back from a meeting in the Islamabad office and spending the night on the Islamabad to Timergara road with an international colleague, Cris, and the driver after the roads and bridges were washed away due to flooding.

All our efforts were washed away, too, as we tried our best to move forward or backward to reach either the project or the capital and could do neither.

It’s hard to pick just a few memories out of so many inspirational and challenging moments with my colleagues.

Emergency response

In 2016 during an emergency response to an earthquake and flooding, I travelled with 10 local colleagues for four to five hours to distribute non-food items.

We reached the area in the evening and it was very cold and rainy.

MSF teams prepare to distribute vital items following the 2016 earthquake in northern Pakistan.

Despite searching, we managed to find only one room in a local hotel to spend the night and there were a limited number of beds and blankets, no electricity, and very little and freezing water.

The team prepared and planned for the next day from the light of their cell phones.

Despite a hard night with little sleep and even less food, the team did an amazing job the very next day and distributed over 300 kits to people affected by floods and the earthquake.

These, and many other stories like it, demonstrate the commitment of our very talented colleagues. They remain my main source of motivation and direction within MSF.

An MSF doctor checks on the vital signs of a newborn girl in the mother and child unit at the hospital in Timergara.

Handing over

I had mixed feelings when I learned that the project was being handed over to the Ministry of Health – 12 years after MSF initially arrived to support local healthcare services, as conflict forced 2.1 million people from their homes.

My 11.5 years with MSF have taught me this: try to leave a place a little better than you found it

I guess the old saying that "all good things must come to an end" is true. We will miss all the times spent serving the community, and with our colleagues. And we will long remember the hard work and happy moments we have shared.

A baby inside the ‘kangaroo mother care’ unit at Timergara District Headquarters Hospital, Lower Dir.

Now, with staff contracts ending and friends heading for home, trucks being loaded, windows shuttered and lights being turned off for the last time I believe that, notwithstanding our best intentions, we cannot fix the world nor can we fix all of the problems we faced over the years.

But here in Timergara, I’m very much convinced that we have tried our best.

My 11.5 years with MSF have taught me this: try to leave a place a little better than you found it.

If I can do that, if I can go home to my family and share with them the happiness of knowing that I made a small difference in this world, and if the next person after me can leave things a little better and the person after that … well you see where this is going.

A beautiful sunset in the mountains of Lower Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

I want to say a huge thank you to all our staff, the local community and to our network in the region who have made this journey possible and have been incredibly helpful and understanding all the way to the end.

And to all my teammates, you were fantastic. From the bottom of my heart, go in peace and know that I am wishing each and every one of you every success on the journey you now take.


(Thank you very much, very much, very much)

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