Libya: Meet our team in Tripoli

Libya team
21 Nov 2021

Marwa, Nurse 

Started working with MSF: June 2016

Libya team

“What drives me to come to work in the morning is the thought of providing assistance to people. We check what their needs are and how we can cover them, whether the needs are medical, physical, psychological or emotional.

Working with MSF has added a lot to my life: every day I’m exposed to new experiences and every day I find out new information that I wouldn’t know about without this important job.

My work as a nurse is crucial. When our team is running daily mobile clinics, I make sure that the medications we need are available. I also make sure that each patient understands the instructions on how to take their medicine: I explain it in language they understand and I answer any questions they have.

My English has improved in the course of this job and I’ve also picked up new languages, like Tigyrinya [spoken in Eritrea and in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region], so I can convey important messages to our patients. I make sure that my instructions to them are clear. This job has taught me a lot in return for the service I provide.”

Hatem, Doctor 

Started working with MSF: June 2018

Libya team

“The most enjoyable part of my work is the teamwork and the team spirit. Leaving the office every morning to run our mobile clinics in the urban areas of Tripoli, our team rush to load up the vans with medical supplies and medicines for our patients. It is beautiful to see these collective efforts and feel the harmony among team members working for the sole purpose of providing care.

When we arrive at the location where we set up our mobile clinic, the sight of vulnerable people waiting for us so to arrive so they can have a medical check-up – just as we look forward to seeing them – fills me with happiness and relief.

On several occasions, when they receive their prescription note, patients have asked me: ‘Where do I go to get this medicine?’ When I direct them to my nurse colleague, who is standing next to me, the person smiles with relief – they don’t have to go to a private pharmacy to pay for a medicine they desperately need. This gives me joy to see.

One of the things that motivates me to go to work every day is being able to provide follow-up for my patients. I work mostly with patients who have suffered trauma injuries – I do the stitches for the patient or make a cast for their fractured limbs. Being able to directly witness the improvement in their condition, seeing their wounds heal, seeing them regain the mobility and functionality they had before their injury, seeing their satisfaction – all of this brings me joy.

The person I am today is completely different from the person I was before I joined MSF. The Hatem I was before didn’t know about the specific needs of the migrants and refugees we see in Libya, or about their living conditions and circumstances. This has definitely changed my perspective towards migrants in general, and towards those in need of medical care in particular.

The Hatem I am now is much more knowledgeable about the situation of migrants and refugees. Now I can speak about their needs and suffering and encourage others not to prejudge them or treat them unfairly.

It really affected me to learn that the people we meet through work have been forced to leave their homeland, their families and their loved ones behind for the sake of finding a better life. When you learn what they’ve been through to achieve this – the risks they experienced on their hard and dangerous journeys to Libya, the ordeal they faced in detention centres and at sea – it cannot help but have an impact on you.”

Areej, Doctor 

Started working with MSF: September 2017

Libya team

“What is enjoyable about my work is the ability to provide medical assistance to migrants and refugees who have left their countries and are living far from their families and loved ones and who have come here to find a dignified life. We are exposed to new people and new stories every day, and we see the direct and positive impact of our assistance when we see patients again and follow up on their health conditions.

I have become a more mature and stronger person because of this job. I’ve become more grateful for the smallest things in my life, and more open and approachable to others. My perception of migrants and refugees has completely changed: I have grown closer to them and I now relate to their pain and their suffering.

MSF has added a lot to my life on both professional and personal levels. I met my husband at work: he’s also a doctor, who works tirelessly to help vulnerable people. This is another reason why I am very grateful to MSF.

During my work in the community, I have seen people who could not afford the medicine to treat even a simple headache or to manage their high blood pressure. We started providing care to them, following up closely on their conditions, and we started seeing real improvements: blood pressure declining, blood sugar regulating. People with chest infections that needed further investigation were urgently referred to one of our supported clinics and received treatment if it turned out to be tuberculosis. People’s lives started to change and we saw this change with our own eyes.

I had one especially memorable night at work. It was almost three years ago. One of our patients, who was seven-months pregnant, was being followed up by our doctors, as part of the mother and child healthcare we provide. She was a very calm and peaceful woman from Central Africa. She never complained about anything. At every visit, when we asked about her health, she’d reply: ‘All is well, all is well.’

That night I was the doctor on call. I received a call from a detention centre saying they had a pregnant woman in a critical condition with abdominal pains. When she arrived at one of our supported clinics, her blood pressure was extremely elevated and her placenta was completely separated from the uterus, so she needed urgently to undergo surgery.

The doctor at the clinic called me and apologised that she could not operate on the woman as she did not have the specialist team to do so. She advised me to transfer her to the general hospital. I tried my best to get her admitted to the general hospital, but unfortunately we have issues getting non-Libyans admitted to these hospitals.

Finally I decided to accompany the woman myself in the ambulance, so that perhaps I could persuade former colleagues or friends in these hospitals to admit her as a favour. At around 3 am, my father sat behind the wheel of the car and we drove behind the ambulance until we reached the first hospital. I convinced the medical staff there that this operation was urgent, otherwise the woman might die. I even signed a pledge in which I took full responsibility for her, and eventually they agreed to do the surgery.

Unfortunately, the baby did not make it, but the mother did. She had an eclamptic fit, which is one of the most serious medical conditions and could have been fatal for the mother, but she survived, by a miracle. She fixed her tired eyes at mine, and with a faint voice she uttered words of complete appreciation to MSF, and to me, for perseverance. This is one night that will always be carved in my memory.”

Balkies, Doctor 

Started working with MSF: February 2021

Libya team

“I chose to work with MSF because I found MSF to be the closest to achieving my personal and professional ambitions.

The most interesting part of this job is that we work in a team. Our team is composed of doctors, nurses, mental health counsellors and humanitarian affairs officers. This is very different from when you work in a public hospital.

One day, during a visit to one of the detention centres, I came across an elderly man, almost the age of my father, who needed a medical consultation. Silently I asked myself: ‘Why would a man of his age leave his home country, risk his life, be arrested and then end up in this place?’ While examining him, he confided in me, saying: ‘I came here because I wanted to travel so that my daughter can learn and be educated and become a doctor like you.’ When he said those words to me, I felt that it was my father speaking to me. It was very sad to think of the circumstances that would drive a father to go through this trouble for his children. That encounter with this elderly person will stay with me.”

Alhan, Doctor 

Started working with MSF: June 2016

Libya team

“What I admire about MSF is its principles and values, with which I feel very aligned. I see firsthand that our assistance is meaningful, and that we are genuinely reaching vulnerable people who, without our help, would be unable to access medical care or have great difficulties accessing it. The good and satisfactory part of this job is that we are able to see the concrete result, the fruit of our hard work for patients.

I enjoy the fact that I meet different people through this job. I see their medical conditions and listen to their personal stories and convey their suffering, and I like the notion that I can be, in some small way, ‘the voice of the voiceless’.

My work with MSF has really changed me, particularly on a personal level. It has increased my self-confidence. It has taught me to stand up for my values. It has helped me adopt these values and principles not only at work but also in my personal life. This job has also taught me patience and endurance under all types of pressure. With MSF, I have also learned how to become more flexible and resilient due to the experiences we go through every day and the stories we hear on every visit. It has taught me to separate my private life from my professional life and to provide care in the best possible way.

I have come to know that humanitarian work is not as easy as it seems, since it is filled with challenges, including internal challenges. I have proved to myself that I can overcome these challenges. There is always an internal dialogue – a voice that says: ‘It is difficult, but you can do it.’

I remember in one detention centre, there were new arrivals – people who had been sent back to Libya from the treacherous sea journey. They were exhausted, some were traumatised, and they had had no food or sleep, so were feeling weak. Among the travellers was a group of minors, all under the age of 18. A guard stood by and watched as we did our job, talking to the migrants and refugees, including the children, to ensure there were no emergencies or patients in a critical condition before we had to leave the centre. The guard, a beautiful soul he was, looked amazed at what he was seeing. I was busy talking to a 14-year-old boy using my very basic knowledge of French, taking his name and personal information. Finally, the guard’s curiosity got the better of him and he interrupted to ask me: ‘Doctor, what are you planning to do with these children? They are only small children – how could they be travelling at sea, alone?’ I did not know the answer to this question, but reassured the guard that we would do what we could for them, including referring them to specialist organisations who could help them. The guard impatiently asked me: ‘But what can I do for them?’ and I urged him not to put the children in the same place as the adults, to shield their childhood, and to let them out to breathe the fresh air and see the light of day.

The boy observed my conversation and asked if I could request the guard to bring them some bread. I did and the guard obliged. The next day when I came to the centre, the little boy received me, a smile on his face. His first words were ‘merci beaucoup’. He said that the guard had treated them well, bringing them bread and other food and taking care of them.

The group of children that we referred to other organisations were voluntarily repatriated to their home countries. Surprisingly, the boy looked me up on Facebook and wrote: ‘Dr Alhan, I am the boy you helped in the detention centre with that guard’. He assured me that he was safe and well, that he had restarted his education and that he was also working to help his father financially. I was very happy to learn that this brave boy was safely back at home and I was proud of myself for being able to help a person who was experiencing very dark days.”

Alaa, Humanitarian Affairs Assistant 

Started working with MSF: March 2021  

Libya team

“I think that my role as a member of the humanitarian affairs department and as part of the mobile clinics team is an important one, as I believe any medical entity or doctor in Libya would need the supporting role of humanitarian affairs or the protection component to carry out their work effectively. There have been times during the course of our work when people have refused the medical care we offer because they had humanitarian needs that, to them, were of a higher priority. Our work as humanitarian affairs officers is to drive positive changes in the overall situation of vulnerable migrants and refugees, especially those living in bad conditions. Without our support, the vulnerable people we meet would only receive medical care, without any concrete solution to their situation and without addressing their humanitarian needs. 

Working with MSF here in Tripoli, I’ve developed a different perspective on migrants and refugees. I’ve entered their world and their lives and gained a real understanding of their living conditions and their stories. I’ve become more empathetic towards them and the vulnerable people I see in the streets. Through this job, I have started to appreciate my life more, and to be content with what I have – as many of these people go without even the most basic and simple things I have. This work has really made a mark on my life.”

Sundus, Doctor 

Started working with MSF: 2016 

Libya team

“It gives me great joy to do this job because I truly see that we, MSF, are providing services to people who are in genuine need of assistance – people who have serious medical conditions and who lack access to healthcare because they cannot afford to pay for care in clinics or hospitals. These people wait for our visits impatiently and depend on the care that we provide. This is what motivates me to go to work every day, to meet these people and assure them that they will be seen and examined on that day. 

My time with MSF has made me see the world in a different light. It’s a rare type of knowledge: I’ve come to learn more about the conditions of my fellow Libyans and to understand the circumstances of migrants and refugees coming to Libya. It has taught me how to be ‘neutral and impartial’ in the way I communicate with people of different backgrounds, religions, cultures and nationalities. I have started interacting with people of different nationalities and I’ve became more open to different cultures and their rituals. I have even learnt new languages to help me address the medical complaints of migrants and refugees of different nationalities. I have also gained interesting medical experience, as we have seen an array of medical conditions, with patients from all backgrounds coming to us for medical care. 

I am amazed by the way our patients – migrants and refugees – support each other in difficult times, despite not sharing the same language or the same culture. They are concerned for each other’s wellbeing and are indescribably supportive to each other. I have met migrants who have volunteered to translate my medical instructions to other patients who are total strangers to them. They bond together and help each other when in need, and this has affected me a lot.”

Bahja, Mental Health Counselor 

Started work with MSF: February 2017

Libya team

“Before joining MSF, I was a university lecturer and a professor of psychology, philosophy and social services in Libya. I first worked with MSF in a mental health clinic whose patients were Libyans from the local community as well as other nationalities, including migrants and refugees. This was the first mental health project of its kind in Tripoli and it had a significant role in changing people’s perceptions of mental health. 

I have always been fond of volunteering and humanitarian work, and MSF embodied both. My work here has changed me for the better and shaped my personality and character. I have learnt to be patient and to work under pressure and endure the difficult situations we go through. I have started taking the initiative and I have become more courageous – this is reflected in the choices I have made. 

I am passionate about my work, especially the kind of work where you can directly see the outcome. As a member of MSF’s mobile clinic team, I conduct regular psychosocial support sessions. When I see patients I met in the first week doing well on a psychological level and adopting a more balanced approach towards life, when I see the fruit of my work at the end of the day – this is where my happiness lies.”

Zaenab, Doctor 

Started working with MSF: February 2021

Libya team

“An elderly man arrived at one of the detention centres in Tripoli. It seems he had become separated from his 10-year-old daughter. He kept asking where she was. He’d heard nothing of her since the day he arrived at the detention centre. He didn’t know where she had ended up – was she in another detention centre or somewhere else? 

By sheer chance, my colleague heard the story and the name and description of his daughter, and realised that the girl was in the very same detention centre as her father. She had been living in the same place as her father for over a month, yet neither one knew that the other was there. 

Our team talked to the guards and explained the situation and we were able to arrange for them to meet. The reunion was heartbreaking to watch. Our team were very emotional; they cried at the sight of the man and his daughter hugging and kissing in disbelief. It is a situation I will never forget.”