CAR: "Humanitarians need to go where no one else wants to"

Midwife Carlen Mezendy Ndakala is the delivery room supervisor at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Castor maternity clinic in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. She started working with MSF in 2010 in the town of Boguila, in the north-western part of the country.

"I wanted to work for MSF in Boguila because it’s a region where the population is in dire need of assistance. When I was there, MSF supported a large hospital with a maternity department, gynaecological and paediatric services, a surgery and services for survivors of sexual violence. Our team was very dynamic and we worked around the clock.

During my time with MSF at the Boguila hospital I learned what it means to be a humanitarian. If you want to do humanitarian work, you need to have compassion and love. Everyone has to be treated the same way, there is no discrimination. By working in the province I wanted to give mothers and children living in difficult circumstances a chance at survival. Humanitarians need to go to places where no one else wants to go. It was not easy, however, to be separated from my husband and six children who stayed behind in Bangui. The youngest one was only 11 months old when I left in 2010.

In 2013, violence broke out in the city and we heard gunshots almost every night. We often had to run for safety to the hospital in the middle of the night. I was pregnant with my seventh child then, and asked MSF to send me back to Bangui because I was worried about losing the baby due to the stress. There was a lot of tension in Bangui as well but it was reassuring to be reunited with my family. After I came back, I first worked with MSF in a camp for displaced people in Mpoko, next to the airport, before taking up work as a midwife at Castor maternity clinic in December 2014.

I have been a midwife since 2001. My work is not easy because all human life is precious. Each time, I do everything I can to save the lives of mums and babies. Saving lives really is my biggest joy. Here at Castor clinic we do about 600 deliveries each month. Some mothers come to us from far away, because of the quality of the services and because our services are free, removing a barrier for many women who would otherwise not go to a hospital to deliver.

In my profession life I have made many friends among the mums and everyone in the district knows me. But our work is not without challenges. As we are a reference centre, other health structures often send us complicated cases where the life of mothers and babies is in jeopardy.  The complications are often a consequence of incomplete abortions or because patients are sent to us too late. It’s really stressful when we get cases like that, it takes up all our energy to try and save lives. In CAR, the hospitals are not as well equipped as in other countries, that’s why as midwives, we really have to rely on all our senses."