Adam Childs has led an extraordinary (and dangerous) life as a member of MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders  since January 2002.
Travelling to countries, many names of which tended to end with "stan", he has been in constant danger. His team has been murdered, a boss threatened to kill him and he had a staff member kidnapped.
Adam has kindly given us the notes from his talk so read on!
My interest in aid work came after I decided to bicycle from Korea to NZ in 1997. I flew from Toronto where I was living to Vancouver and then to Seoul. I spent a month cycling around S. Korea using a handkerchief as a map before flying to Singapore. From there, I cycled up to Bangkok and back, flying out of Singapore to Perth where I broke my arm and had my bicycle stolen.
After a three month hiatus, I bought a new bicycle in Melbourne and cycled/bussed up to Sydney. From there, I landed in NZ (Auckland) for the first time in 1998. I cycled from Auckland as far as Franz Josef before the cold (it was May) and snow made me give up, put the bike on a bus and come to Queenstown.
A few months later, I was cycling again, this time in Indonesia and finally back to Canada where I put in about 12,000km on my bicycle around Ontario.
But my appetite had been whetted and in 2000, I went to Uganda with VSO – my first aid work. It was meant to be a two-year posting but a year in, my employer threatened to kill me so I left early (2001).
In January 2002, I joined MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders. My first mission was to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan as a Financial Controller. This introduced me to some of the dangers of this sort of work as our team in Badghis was murdered shortly afterwards.
After this, I did a number of missions in succession:
  • 2003-04. Sri Lanka. Financial Controller, Logistics Coordinator and Head of Mission.
  • 2004: Darfur. Opened Oxfam’s project there.
  • 2005: SE Nigeria. Project Coordinator.
  • 2005: Haiti. Emergency Financial Controller. One of our staff was kidnapped and we had to drive through the Dominican Republic to leave as the airport in Haiti was blockaded.
  • 2006: Papua New Guinea. Assessment of Sexual Violence.
  • 2006: Syria and Lebanon. Head of Mission, opened and closed intervention during the Israeli-Lebanon war.
  • 2006: East Timor. Assessment of civil unrest and riots in Dili and the rest of the country
  • 2006: Sri Lanka. Reopen our mission after heavy fighting is renewed in the north.
  • 2007-09: Head of Mission in Kenya and Somalia – our team is murdered in Kismayo. Sento to India as security for the team after death threats. Assessment of mistreatment of minorities in NW Thailand and response to TB. Crossed into Myanmar at night to assess the ‘black zones’ (areas where the Burmese government is in open conflict with the residents). Traveled to Ethiopia as Emergency team leader but sent home after having been diagnosed with PTSD. Out of action for 9 months.
  • 2010. Chad. Security audit.
  • 2010. South Sudan. Emergency Project Coordinator after team collapses.
  • 2010. Return to Somalia and Somaliland. Open new mission there.
  • 2012. Lebanon. Head of Mission for Syria refugee crisis.
  • 2012. Malaysia. Head of Mission assessing human trafficking.
  • 2014. Return to Malaysia. More assessments, more contacts.
  • 2014. Sierra Leone. Head of Mission for Ebola crisis.
  • 2015. Malaysia. Open (finally!) mission there.
  • 2015. Turkey. Head of Assessment Mission for Syrian refugees in the region.
In 2010, I immigrated to NZ. I also started my own business – tCeti Ltd – that provides safety and security training for unarmed personnel traveling to insecure (conflict) zones. Current clients include ActionAid, MSF and James Cook University where I am an Adjunct Senior Lecturer.
During this period, I also did a lot of holiday travelling – Cuba, Trinidad, Western Europe, Cyprus, Cambodia, Vietnam, Samoa, etc. I would always rent a bicycle or motorbike in these places to get away from the main tourist centres.
My job(s):
  1. Head of Mission / Country Director: Responsible for all operations in one country.
    Example – Sierra Leone Ebola Response
    1. 106 International Staff
    2. >3,000 National Staff
    3. >$10m budget
    4. Strategies and policies
    5. Security and logistics
    6. Finance and HR
    7. Liaison with government, UN, Red cross and other NGOs
  2. Lead assessment missions: Make recommendations to open (or not) new missions in places we are not currently working.
    Example – Papua New Guinea Sexual Violence
    1. Three Questions:
    2. What are the (medical) needs?
    3. Why do they exist?
    4. What could MSF do about it?
    5. Min. $1m per mission plus $250K per project
    6. Very small team, usually unidentified
    7. Push (security) limits
  3. Provide extra capacity / take responsibility in highly insecure contexts
    1. Go in as team comes out
    2. Manage crises (kidnap)
    3. Security audits / analysis
    4. Emergency team member capable of rapid (24, 48-hour response)
Safety and Security Train