Work and life in the field

Let’s be honest: the work and living conditions in our projects are different from what you might be used to.

The plus side is that you get to spend time with people of various nationalities and backgrounds. A drawback could be that safety issues require you to follow strict rules and procedures that limit your movements.


Let’s paint you a picture…


Working for MSF means working in a team. You cannot do it alone; you need each other to achieve results. A team usually consists of 4 to 10 international aid workers from different parts of the world and a group of locally hired staff. Therefore, you need to be able to work with people with different backgrounds, cultures and languages. You often work 6 days a week (sometimes more), work long days, and share incredible, beautiful and sad experiences with your fellow aid workers.


Living conditions? Usually, you and your fellow international staff members live together in an MSF compound. This could be a house where everyone has their own room or shared grounds with straw or clay huts. Living conditions could be very basic: think small mattress with a mosquito net. The project could be located in the capital of a country, but it could also be located in a very remote area, hours or days away from the nearest city.



Bathroom? Also possibly very different from your current situation. There’s a chance that you will have to do without running (hot) water, that you’ll shower using a bucket, and that your toilet will be nothing more than a wooden construction over a septic tank.


Leisure and sport? All according to local safety regulations. That could mean that you’re not allowed to leave the MSF compound after curfew (a possible problem for devoted runners). Many of our aid workers find a way to make compound life as enjoyable as possible: by cooking together, for instance, or by organising movie nights and football games. During missions where there are particularly restrictive conditions, an R & R (rest and recuperation) rule applies, allowing you to regularly leave the project temporarily for some free time elsewhere.



Keeping in touch with home? Being away from home for a long time can be difficult. Email, Skype and WhatsApp (depending on local internet connections) often prove effective ways to keep in touch with family and friends. Every project has at least one joint email address that can be used.


Read more about security and safety precautions in the field.

And wondering what to take with you to the field? Check out logistician Matt's 'field essentials packing list'.