CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
Healing Our World: Inside Doctors Without Borders.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007.
121 pp., cloth, $22.95.
Doctors Without Borders (Association).
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Val Ken Lem.
About a third of MSF's ex-pats are non-medical volunteers. They are the people who handle the logistics of a mission, which means organizing, maintaining, and moving people and supplies. They keep our land cruisers running, set up latrines, and make sure that a mission has the bandages, medicines, beds, and everything else it needs. People who are good at numbers handle the money that goes in and out of a mission. Engineers help build water and sanitation systems and design cholera centers. Missions set up in war zones have people who alert us when a platoon of soldiers is on its way or some new political situation threatens the security of our patients.
As a former executive director of the Canadian section of Médecins Sans Frontières, known in English as Doctors Without Borders, Morley is well-positioned to describe the history, organizational structure and activities of the humanitarian organization that provides medical and relief assistance "to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict, without discrimination and irrespective of race, religion, creed, or political affiliation." MSF is committed to impartiality and neutrality, but it speaks out when serious abuses of fundamental human rights are observed.
In addition to brief explanations of the origins and growth of the organization, Morley describes the roles of volunteers serving abroad and the local national staff who are the most numerous employees of MSF. A variety of volunteers are profiled and quoted to provide firsthand accounts of the types of jobs that they perform and why they are working with MSF. Excerpts from e-mails or journals from relief workers on disaster and war zone missions capture the immediacy of the missions as situations are assessed, feeding stations established, and refugee camp residents' concerns are recorded. Numerous black and white photographs and a map showing the 70 countries around the world where MSF has missions nicely supplement the text. An index is provided.
The second half of the book is comprised of three journal entries that Morley made in El Salvador following an earthquake, from the Congo in 2004 where he was responsible for advocacy activities as civil war came to an end, and from Zambia where he was assessing an HIV/AIDS project in a remote part of the country. These accounts serve as mini case studies that illustrate the variety of work that MSF undertakes in specific situations.
Morley fulfils his objective to let students know how the organization works, where it goes on missions, what it does there, and about the lives of the people the organization seeks to help. He also explains the tricky situations whereby MSF was compelled to speak out about atrocities in an effort to prod political leaders to end violence against patients and civilians, or to encourage other agencies such as the United Nations to help out in a humanitarian crisis. He does not gloss over the challenges but leaves the reader with a hopeful sense that individuals can get involved and help to make the world a better place.
Val Ken Lem is a catalogue librarian and collection liaison for English, history and Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.
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