Doctors Without Borders
Jon is fighting sleeping sickness in Africa.
Jon Solaas has graduated from UIO with a degree in Social Anthropology and now works for the organisation Doctors Without Borders. When he is on assignments in The Demographic Republic of the Congo he works in a team of healthcare personnel that reveals, relieves and prevents Human African Trypanosomiasis, also known as African sleeping sickness.
The team consists of a doctor, several nurses, laboratory technicians and health promoters. Solaas is the communication link between the office in Berlin and the medical team in the field. He does also have the responsibility to lead the division.
- The reason that they wanted an anthropologist for this job, was not only that sleeping sickness is extremely hard to diagnose, it has also become increasingly difficult to locate. The treatments we provide results in fewer cases which is the reason it has become harder to locate the people carrying the disease, Solaas says.
Courses, work and network
His task is to work on a ground level in the field with the existing team working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF). By developing a strategy for communication that is based on local knowledge about the sickness and information about the cases they diagnose, they manage to detect more people carrying the disease.
- I applied for a position as a fieldworker in Doctors Without Borders because I wanted to do practical work the way I was trained to do them as an anthropologist. After a round of presentations, interviews, employment and my first assignment in the summer of 2016, I was ready to go again. Shortly after I was assigned my second assignment in DR Congo. I realized how lucky I was because this job was spot on – the perfect combination of work tasks related to anthropology and a focus on being in the field.
Solaas worked in Red Cross for a period after completing his bachelor degree, before starting his master. He thinks that relevant experience and network is important to improve job opportunities after graduation.
There is no need to finish the degree as fast as possible if you do not have something to go to. Use your network from previous work and start applying for jobs early on. I started the process six months in advance of finishing my anthropology degree.
Use anthropology every day
The anthropological skills he gained during his degree has been very beneficial, and Solaas use it almost every day He works in a team mixed with local, national and international employees.
The mix of different cultures and perspectives is not always easy. Instead of being frustrated and think negatively, anthropology becomes the basis of understanding. I think it helps me in my daily life where the setting is so different.
Being a student Solaas liked the most – and the least – that anthropology is so complex.
- Today, anthropology is not only based on grand theories that seeks to simplify complexity and explain everything. This means that there are many exceptions to take into account, which makes it hard to speak about the world in general terms. Most important of all is that anthropology is based on the field, or what I like to call reality. In reality you are far from theories but close to human action and lives. The fieldwork was a motivation throughout the degree, and when I found myself based alone in Haiti, I was not disappointed.
Solaas also talks about the good student life, which was some of the reason he wanted to continue after the first semester. Good friends that was also a great support in the end.
People are not simple
- Why should you choose a degree in anthropology?
- You should study anthropology because it is hard and because so are people. We are all different and sometimes incomprehensible, and skills in anthropology will help you understand. If you combine courses, fieldwork and classmates you will end up with an advantageous combination that will contribute to a positive change in the world, with a basis of the people you work with. I think this is what people really want to do when they talk about interest in working with people and to help.
He suggests that it is a good idea to write about something relevant in the master thesis. Ask yourself the question if your research topic is related to something you would want to work with.