Diary of a Liberian aid worker

by: Tom Quinn, who works for MSF, is writing a diary for
© BBC News Online

Medecins Sans Frontieres is one of the few aid agencies still working in Liberia.

I am standing inside Gibson high school in central Monrovia.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 displaced people have gathered here.

There are people everywhere.

They have jammed chairs in windows to try to free up more floor space and also to stop the rain from pouring in.

There is dirty clothing draped all over.

Queues have begun to form because they have heard that the government will be here soon to distribute some food.

Let's hope so.

Need to prioritise

We came across this school yesterday.

Each day our team has been visiting various locations around the city.

There are thousands of people gathering in all manner of places and we simply can not address all their needs.

It is so hard sometimes, but we have to prioritise.

Today our head of mission, Alain, has been sorting out the trucking of water to the stadium where between 10,000 and 20,000 people have gathered.

They are installing water tanks to improve hygiene to help prevent epidemics such as cholera, which is endemic in Liberia.

Meanwhile, Willy and I have visited various health clinics and makeshift camps.

Willy is our amazing clinic supervisor - a star of a man who has worked with us for 3 years now.

And now we are here.

Rebel ceasefire

Looking around at the chaos that surrounds me, I decide that this school is going to have to become a priority.

There are no latrines, no plastic sheeting, no clean water.

The only food people have is that which they managed to bring with them when they fled from the camps on the city's northern outskirts.

They need our medical help.

So I will discuss it with the team this afternoon and propose we set up a clinic.

By the way, I heard that Charles Taylor and the rebels agreed to a ceasefire yesterday evening.

It is hard to know how to react.

But of course we are all relieved that the promised bloodbath is not about to happen.

But the people here have been through so much that it is hard for them to trust what they hear.

They will just wait and see.

In the meantime, there are not many smiles to be seen.

11 June, 1415 Liberia time/GMT

I woke up this morning at 0500 to silence.

Sometimes you hear artillery and mortar but it has been quiet these last few days.

I wonder how much longer it will last - the rebels have given Charles Taylor 72 hours to step down and it is difficult to know what he will do.

We have a new plan for today.

Yesterday, staff and patients in Monrovia's last remaining public hospital, Redemption Hospital, were forced out on to the streets and the hospital was looted.

Our team found patients trying to escape in ambulances or being carried by staff or relatives.

There were dead bodies in the main street - the smell was terrible.

The situation is critical.

Although there are a few MSF health clinics around the city which I have made sure are fully supplied with medication and staff, it is not enough.

Team spirit

So over breakfast this morning we decided there was nothing for it but to build our own hospital right here in the compound.

All of our national staff and their families have moved in to the compound with us, including those from Redemption Hospital, and there is a great feeling of team spirit.

Together we cleared out one of the houses and began to build.

Funnily enough, spirits have been high. It is a great relief to be able to do something constructive again, especially for many of the national staff, many of whom have been unable to go to work because of the insecurity in the streets.

These people never cease to amaze me.

They are just unbelievable.

They have walked for miles and miles every day despite the fighting to come to the office and help with work.

Their commitment is simply staggering.

And now it's mid-afternoon and the first patients have just walked in.

Several of our team have spent the morning going through the streets and letting people know that we will soon have this facility set up and that they can come to us for help.

There are 10 people here already, almost all with dysentery and I'm sure there will be hundreds by evening.

Time to run.

12 June, 1445 Liberia time/GMT

added by: Robert W. Kranz  13-06-2003