Staff story: My life as a female flight coordinator
Many areas where our teams work are barely accessible by road. Rainy seasons bring treacherous mud that sinks cars, and insecurity can make it too dangerous to travel.
But life-saving supplies still need to reach our hospitals and clinics, and critically-ill patients need to be transferred to specialist care.
That’s where people like Stella come in.
Some moments with patients will forever linger in my mind.
She needed a caesarean section to save her life and her baby’s. But the team in Malakal don’t have those facilities. The woman needed an urgent transfer to the MSF hospital in Agok, in Abyei Special Administrative Area – over 190 miles away.
We arranged the flight.
“This is the kind of care they never dreamt of, and we bring it to them free of charge”
Later, we coordinated another flight, to bring her and her new baby safely home.
The feelings that patients express and the satisfaction it gives me after such a life-saving flight is beyond anyone’s imagination. This is the kind of care they never dreamt of, and we bring it to them free of charge.
Charting my own path
I’m a deputy flight coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Flight coordination involves creating flight itineraries, serving as a dispatcher, and many different aspects of flight logistics.
I’ve always been interested in planes. When I was a child, I would look up at the sky in awe. But my parents had different ideas.
I’m from Kenya, and my dad wanted me to go into wildlife conservation, while my mum wanted me to be a banker.
But eventually, they changed their minds. My dad told me that he would support my career of choice if that meant my happiness.
So, I trained in aviation, specialising in operations and dispatch, plus aviation safety and quality.
I was working with a local aviation company in Nairobi when I first got a request from MSF.
They needed a plane to carry medical supplies. I started getting more MSF requests. Later, I found out that MSF also has its own planes. It got me thinking…
I wanted to work for an organisation which tries to make people’s lives better.
I saw people working in different organisations who would put a smile on people’s faces – like my sister, who volunteered for a local group that raised funds to help pay children’s school fees.
In 2019, I applied to work with MSF, and in June that year, I joined the team! So far, I’ve done four assignments as a flight coordinator in South Sudan as well as Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Work for MSF
A career delivering medical aid where it's needed most
In South Sudan, our teams are providing lifesaving medical care. This means responding to disease outbreaks; doing vaccination campaigns; running specialist services for mothers and children; and taking healthcare out into the community.
Planes are essential for all of these activities. Road transportation is limited here because of poor infrastructure, insecurity, and seasonal floods.
“It’s a male-dominated industry. Being a woman in logistics, and especially in aviation, is not a challenge I face easily, but I try to do so with courage and determination”
Right now, I’m working in Old Fangak, a river town where there are no roads or cars, only boats and the airstrip.
In addition to transferring patients, our planes ensure that doctors and essential medical and relief supplies can get to people in need.
One example I won’t forget was in February 2021, when floods in Jonglei and Unity States forced people out of their homes. Many had nothing: not even the basic essential items for living, so MSF arranged flights with relief items, including tents and blankets, as well as medical care.
Violent clashes are also a perennial issue in some areas of the country and can lead to multiple people injured and in urgent need of medical care at once.
I play an important role in these circumstances. During clashes earlier this year in Agok, I was tasked with transferring patients to other MSF hospitals as well as facilitating evacuations of MSF staff members.
Challenges and rewards
Despite the contentment that flight coordination gives me, South Sudan is a challenging environment and the aviation standards are low. Airstrips in the region are surrounded by bushes and the air traffic control isn’t at its best.
One thing that keeps my job uniquely interesting is that it’s a male-dominated industry. Being a woman in logistics, and especially in aviation, is not a challenge I face easily, but I try to do so with courage and determination.
Despite the challenges, my job gives me many moments I will never forget.
Once I had to get a little boy back to his family after a whole month away in hospital. I remember how elated they were. Seeing the joy on his family’s faces and those of others we serve is what keeps me going.
MSF in South Sudan
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) works in hospitals and clinics throughout South Sudan, where we run some of our biggest programmes worldwide.
As well as providing basic and specialised healthcare, our teams respond to emergencies and disease outbreaks affecting isolated communities, internally displaced people and refugees from Sudan.