Crédit : Charlotte Boitiaux
Crédit : Charlotte Boitiaux

InfoMigrants is currently on board the Aquarius, an NGO migrant rescue vessel patrolling the Mediterranean. This picture shows Marcella, one of the members of Doctors without Borders (MSF) on board.

Marcella started as a receptionist at the headquarters of MSF in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This is perhaps why her demeanor is so modest. Now thirty years later, Marcella is the head of the MSF team on board the Aquarius. In March, she embarked on a seven-month mission with the ship.

Until now, Marcella worked with MSF teams on land by herself, most notably when she left on missions to South Sudan, Haiti, Guinea, the DRC and Iraq. "Here it’s a little bit different. My leadership responsibilities are split with Nicholas, who is the SOS Mediterranee team leader and also with the ship’s captain. It works out well. We share a lot of the tasks and end up practically everything together altogether,"she says.

She is a little less enthusiastic when talking about going on the ship for the first time. "I was terribly afraid of having sea sickness! That was my biggest fear. The first time that I went on a boat was during a tourist trip going between Japan and China. I was horribly sick. But this time I cheated and took some medicine," she smiles.

For Marcella, who is used to humanitarian work, the Aquarius mission is not any less difficult than the others, but it is calmer. "Here there is no person that stops us from doing our work," Marcella says. She doesn’t have to submit to external pressure. "But in many of the countries I worked in, you have to negotiate, for example with the government or armed groups. You always have to pay attention," she tells InfoMigrants.

Marcella working in her cabin

On board the Aquarius, like on her other missions, she is thankful to be born in a nice part of the world. "With MSF, you often go to places where you see unpleasant things such as murdered bodies, and people who were tortured or lynched. I keep my composure by always telling myself the same thing: '‘I am here looking after this child, man or woman and they could not be in a better place than at this moment.  Here they will be taken care of and will have a chance to stay alive.'"

Marcella doesn’t have a life partner or children. "How could you want me to have a family?" she laughs. "MSF sends its teams on missions lasting 6 to 9 months. That is really long when you have kids." But she doesn’t regret it. Despite the length of the missions, the tiredness,  and occasional bouts of sadness, she believes she is "privileged."

"I have a fantastic profession: I work to give people their dignity back."

Author: Charlotte Boitiaux

Translated by Wesley Dockery


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