"When good karma dawns, the wall of doubt is torn down." ~ Sri Guru Ganth Sahib (this is difficult to explain; google it).
If I didn't believe in Karma before this process began (which I did), I certainly would have been forced to afterwards. To me, not a lot of other explanations outside of karma make sense, but I'm sure - to others - there might be a more concrete interpretation of these events.
Last April I was able to attend the 90-minute webinar with MSF, which comprised of an overview of the organization, the recruitment process, and practical information about what it is like to work for them, what to expect, etc. The information was terrifically exciting but defeating at the same time. The biggest, most relevant piece of information was that MSF only accepts about 20% of all applications made to work for them. That's not a lot of people (if basic math is not simple for you, that's an 80% rejection rate). MSF relies heavily on what's called national staff, which are individuals from the area receiving support who are trained by MSF staff to be able to keep services sustainable once MSF pulls out. International staff, which is what I would be, make up a small portion of the overall staff pool and generally spend 60% of their time training national staff and 40% of their time in direct intervention with the people using MSF's services. This was not a problem for me, as I am very comfortable presenting and teaching and have a lot of experience doing so. It actually seemed like a nice balance between working front line and working as an educator.
The second biggest, most relevant piece of information was around the stringent recruitment criteria, some of which I met with my current education and experience. A heavy emphasis was placed upon having previous experience working and travelling outside of Canada/USA, as well as speaking French (and other languages that may be considered applicable). This was an issue. Although my last name is French and my father is Acadian French, I do not speak French outside of statements helpful to find a bathroom or engage in a simple greeting. As for the travel/work experience, well, that's what MSF was going to be for me. I had no idea there would be an expectation of accomplishing that before starting with MSF; although, upon reflection, it made perfect sense. Basically, MSF needs to know that, as an applicant, you know yourself well enough (through experience) to know: whether you can live in harsh conditions, face situations daily that are traumatic in nature, take a huge step outside of your comfort zone, and walk away (for a year) from everything you know and love, without poking your eyes out with a sharp stick. They are not going to invest time and money into you without knowing that you can manage all of that, plus more. MSF exists in some pretty conflict filled areas where staff are only allowed to travel between the compound and their place of work for months at a time because it is not safe to venture outside of that very small box. And, you cannot know if you can manage this without experiencing it first; you simply cannot know. You can think you know, but, you don't really know....you know?
At first, this information made me think my dream (which I had finally decided to act upon) was out of my reach; this was a huge bummer. From the research I had done, I knew that volun-tourism was booming in places like Africa and that organizations were making lots of money offering volunteer opportunities to tourists in combination with an African tourist experience. The cost of joining some of these projects totaled somewhere around $6000 and that did not count your air fare (which, as you can imagine, is expensive) and only provided you with six weeks of travelling/volunteering. I knew I could not afford something like this to gain the experience needed to become part of MSF. That was not going to happen.
Two days after attending the webinar (the day after my 33rd birthday), I was walking through the parking lot of my agency in the afternoon, when I ran into my colleagues husband, Ron. My colleague, a clinician, and her family are some of the most interesting people I know, as they are adventurers, environmentalists, and activists. They have two sons between them, both in their early to mid 20's, who are some of the coolest, most socially conscious kids I know. I am constantly asking her how she managed to raise such great kids, such great men and her answers are always wonderful. I wish she had been my mom. As I stopped to talk to Ron and he asked me what I've been up to, I found myself describing the MSF webinar and the obstacles I was now facing in accomplishing my dream. He listened to me and then responded by noting that his oldest son had just returned from working on a project in Mudete, Kenya (Western Kenya), a project that he had been working with himself for quite some time. He suggested that I come over for dinner sometime so that he and his son could tell me more about it, in the event I would like to become involved. I asked him how much this would cost, to volunteer for this particular organization, and he said that it wouldn't cost anything outside of the plane ticket and a small amount of cash needed to buy necessities. Now, that sounded interesting.
It didn't take long for the dinner to be organized and I ended up going over to their place about two weeks after the conversation in the parking lot happened. Over some wine, salmon and yummy dessert, the dialogue revolved around Africa and Kenya, tribal wars, aid projects, and specifics around the organization Ron and his son had worked with. As it turned out, Ron was working on a documentary that featured the small Fairview School in Mudete, Kenya, where orphaned children - many with HIV - attended classes. Their stories were captivating and I was able to view pictures and videos of their adventures in Africa and, as the discussion progressed, Ron introduced me to another organization that he had visited in Limuru, Kenya - about 20 miles outside Nairobi. As far as he knew, there was little to no cost to volunteer with them either and he could connect me to the appropriate people at either organization. All it took was watching a 10 minute informational video about the organization in Limuru and I knew that's where I wanted to go. Watching that video sparked something deep inside me that, since then, has not diminished.
So, I made another decision...Limuru, Kenya. Full steam ahead.