Published: 13-10-2023 13:58 | Updated: 13-10-2023 14:00

KI student combines Master studies with field work in disasters

A road with rubble and destroyed houses
Damaged road and houses in Morocco after the earthquake 2023 Photo: Marwen Fakhfakh

It began with a text message in the early hours of the morning. A few hours later he was on a plane to Morocco, reading the first reports and trying to start a secondary data analysis of the situation. Within the 48 hours after the earthquake, he was in the most affected region. He had barely gotten back from that mission, when he was asked to go to Libya and to do the same thing all over again, this time in a heavily flooded town.

Profile photo of Marwen Fakhfakh, a man with glasses
KI student Marwen Fakhfakh Photo: n/a

It has been a busy couple weeks for medical doctor and KI Global Health Master student Marwen Fakhfakh. He studied and trained to be a medical doctor in his native Tunisia and worked there for three years as an emergency physician, before joining Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in 2019. Since then, he has gone on numerous humanitarian aid missions with the organisation, most recently in the role of project medical referent, which means that he focuses less on treatment of individual patients and more on managing health facilities and preventive health programs, and recently conducting health assessments.

However, Marwen is currently on study break from his commitment with MSF, whilst he is pursuing a Masters in Global Public Health at KI. Whilst he has to decline most requests to go on missions abroad, he does what he can to fit shorter, urgent missions in around his schedule and his studies.

Urgent missions to access needs following disasters

That was the case a few weeks ago, when an urgent request came in, via text message, to go to Morocco and assess what, if anything, the organisation could do to support the health care needs following the earthquake that hit the country on the 8th of September 2023

Marwen and his colleagues were able to cover a lot of ground quickly and complete an initial assessment in 72 hours. But Marwen had barely had it back home to Stockholm before he was asked to go out again on a similar mission, this time to Libya after severe floods and dam collapses that occurred in the country in the second week of September 2023.

Skills from KI proved useful in the field

The two missions to Morocco and Libya were both urgent, but short, seven days each, much like the other mission Marwen has gone on whilst being a student at KI, namely to the Turkey-Syria boarder after the earthquake in February 2023. There Marwen found himself applying methods he had learned in the Master programme.

- Because of access constrains, we had to hire data collectors and provide them with questionnaires and forms to conduct  a qualitative assessment of the living conditions of affected and displaced people  using skills that I had learned at KI, Marwen says.

In general, Marwen has found his teachers and other staff at KI to be positive and encouraging when he has gone on these missions. Nevertheless, he takes full responsibility himself for the consequences going on missions might have on his studies and understands that tailor-made solutions cannot be done for him.

Combining work and studies means hard work and compromises

One such consequence is that now that he is back, he is dealing with the backlog of work he has and catching up on things he missed while he was away. But he says that is something he was aware of when he accepted the missions.

- I accept that going on missions means I sacrifice certain comforts and structured paths in my studies, but I make sure my studies are not affected, he says.

It can be done, and it is rewarding

His advice to others who might be considering if they can combine studying with things like short-term missions and field work abroad or at home is that there are opportunities to do so, and it can be very rewarding for your career. But it is hard work and requires you to take responsibility to make sure you can do both, and not overextend yourself, leading to either the work or the studies, or both, suffering.