Tasha: braving jungle to bring healthcare

“As team leader of the mobile clinic, I need to know everything – not only about treating a patient as a doctor but also from budgeting to running the boat and other handyman’s work. I learned when to shift the boat’s horsepower depending on the river’s current, water level, or the weather.”

Known by her friends as Tasha, Dr. Natasha REYES shared one of her most interesting experiences, where her abilities are tested and challenged not only as a doctor but also as someone raised in a city.

She has braved many toughconditions in some of the world’s most dangerous places – Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. – since she joined Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in 2007. And Colombia in South America is no exception.

“We were doing mobile clinics from a boat in rebel-held jungle areas. It was my fourth mission. We used to get in our boats, and go down the river to conduct medical activities in different villages. We reach areas where most of the time we don’t have any buildings to sleep at, no toilet, and no bathroom at all. We bathe and clean ourselves in the river. Sometimes, I can see yellow poo floating next to me.”

Living most of the time on a boat and in very remote villages for seven months, Tasha never expected that she could do it. On every trip, which lasted for 8-12 days, the team delivered medical care to four villages. From one village to the next, it could take one to two full days of traveling by boat, without a roof to protect them from the sun).

“The routine was, our team travels during the day, sleeps at night, then the next day set up the mobile clinic and conduct medical activities. Then travel again by boat to another village. We have an office base in one of the small towns in Colombia. We embark from there before sunrise together with boxes of medical supplies and other stuff.”

“I have a waterproof bag where I put everything I need in there - snacks, water bottle, clothes,  personal medicines, toiletries. We also bring over a week’s worth of food for a team of 9 on the boats.   There are no shops in the villages since the people of Choco, who get our medical services, are hunters and gatherers. Usually, in the places we find to rest from the day’s exhausting trip, there is only a hole dug in the ground as a toilet and our tent to sleep in.”

When asked on how she keeps herself sane, she says, “I want to challenge myself but I make sure that I keep certain habits and behaviors I have from home, like painting my nails.After my experience in Colombia, I realised that all I need in my life can fit in a small waterproof bag. Of course, there are certain luxuries I still enjoy, but I know I can live even without them.”