The bright, sunny office overlooking Glebe Point Rd doesn’t exactly bring to mind the bloody conflicts of the world – but as the Australian headquarters of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), it’s an engine room of one of the world’s biggest providers of medical humanitarian aid.
Since 1971, MSF (known in English as ‘Doctors Without Borders’) has been providing medical assistance to people in all sorts of global conflicts. And as the Executive Director of MSF Australia and an MSF employee for 17 years, British-born Paul McPhun has seen some of these conflicts first-hand.
“I worked in Tajikistan during the war there, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working in Nigeria and the Congo, I spent years in Latin America – in Mexico during the Zapatista Uprising, a number of years in Colombia … I’ve been abducted, involved in multiple hijackings, held up, and involved in difficult negotiations,” says McPhun.
Now ensconced in Australia, having earned his stripes, McPhun has a new mission: to get Australians to support his organisation’s vital work.
As he explains, it might seem far removed from our Antipodean way of life – but in fact, MSF is active right on Australia’s doorstep.
“If we look at Papua New Guinea, nobody would say that that’s a state with an internal conflict – but there’s an awful lot of internal conflict there between different Wantoks [different language groups] over issues of land, ownership and resources … and if you look at it through the lense of a doctor, you’re dealing with classically ‘wartime’ patients in the operating theatre there every day.”
Realising that conflict can be close to home – not just far away – is a message MSF is keen to promote.
Similarly, the idea that you can do something about it from home is integral to MSF’s modus operandi.
“In fact, the average person can do a lot to help,” says McPhun. “Taking an interest is the first thing. We’re really interested in driving people to our website, which is a really useful portal into some of the realities around the world that just don’t get any exposure in Australia.
“And obviously, if this kind of work is something you want to take an active role in, there’s no easier way to help than to support us financially. We depend on private donations.”
It is those private donations that give MSF the ability to respond with haste to any emergency – and without the strings that come with government funding.
“It allows us to respond to an emergency anywhere within the world within 24 hours, and to manage very high levels of operations in very insecure places like Syria,” says McPhun.
“And it can be a very small contribution – but the more people who take an active interest and support us, the more we can say: ‘This is the kind of support we can count on and this is the emergency pot of money we can rely on to have a team on the site of the earthquake in Pakistan, or a conflict in the Middle-East, within 24 hours.”
For information on how you can support MSF Australia, or to simply learn more about the organisation, visit www.msf.org.au or www.msf.tv.