Barna nurse on mercy mission in Congo

Aileen Ni Chaoilte pictured working at an orphanage in Kenya.

Aileen Ni Chaoilte pictured working at an orphanage in Kenya.

A 27-year-old Barna nurse is to work with Nobel Peace prize-winning organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF ) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Aileen Ni Chaoilte, who is originally from Inis Mor on the Aran Islands but grew up in Barna, is a graduate of NUI Galway. She worked for three years at UHG before moving to London to gain further experience and undertake a Diploma in Tropical Nursing, a requirement for nurses wishing to work with MSF.

She is one of 50 Irish volunteers from a range of backgrounds - doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants, project managers and human resources specialists - who work with MSF across the globe. An international medical humanitarian organisation it has provided independent medical relief to victims of war, disasters and disease outbreaks since 1971.

It was founded by doctors and journalists to provide basic healthcare, perform surgery, carry out vaccination campaigns, operate feeding programmes for malnourished children and treat complex tropical diseases in emergencies and their aftermath. It also “rehabilitates” destroyed hospitals and clinics, constructs wells, dispenses clean drinking water and provides shelter materials. It has offices in 19 countries and an international co-ordination office in Geneva. Since opening its Dublin office in 2006 more than 50 Irish nurses, doctors, accountants, project managers and engineers have worked overseas with it.

Ms Ni Chaolite, who will spend nine month with MSF, says working with the charity was something she always wanted to do. “When I was in university I met a nurse who had worked with MSF before and she really inspired me.”

While she has some experience of development work from her time spent caring for children in an orphanage in Kenya, this will be her first occasion working in an emergency medical context.

She had mixed feelings before her departure. “I was quite nervous but now I’ve done more reading up on Congo and I’m really looking forward to getting out there, getting stuck in and meeting people from a whole different part of the world. It’ll take time to adjust though, I’ll be like a headless chicken when I first arrive.”

The Galway nurse will be based in the town of Baraka in Eastern Congo on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where MSF runs a hospital providing surgery, TB and HIV treatment, nutrition and cholera care. She will spend a lot of time travelling around the area supervising three outreach clinics.

“My daily routine in Congo will be very different from my routine at home. Communicating with the patients and staff will be tricky and resources will be very limited so I’ll have to make do with what I have.”

A country with huge mineral wealth and natural resources, she arrived in the Congo after it celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium. The intervening years since independence however have been marred with civil war, coups, and assassinations. MSF has been working there since 1987 providing lifesaving medical aid to the population caught up in the conflict. The situation in Baraka where Aileen will be working is relatively stable but she will be faced with new medical challenges.

“I remember once in Galway we had a possible case of TB which was a huge deal. HIV was never mentioned at all but I do have some experience of caring for HIV patients in London. In Congo, both will be common.”

While she misses her family and friends, Aileen has “great” support which will see her through this nine-month mission. “I’m the first in my family to do anything like this. My mum was a bit wary initially but she knows it is something I’ve always wanted to do so she’s happy for me.”

MSF Ireland welcomes applications from nurses and other medical and non-medical professionals to work overseas on an ongoing basis. Previous overseas experience and other languages, such as French and Arabic, are an asset but not always necessary. However applicants must be genuinely passionate about helping people in need. For further information log onto www.msf.ie/workwithus or telephone (01 ) 6603337. To support MSF or to access the latest information on its medical humanitarian work around the world visit its website www.msf.ie

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