Medecins du Monde (also known as MdM or Doctors of the World) is an international humanitarian aid organization whose volunteers provide medical care and ongoing support for vulnerable populations around the world. Established in 1980 by 15 French physicians, the group has grown into an international network of organizations based in 14 nations, including Japan.
MdM currently oversees 67 different projects in 46 countries, and is active in developing and developed nations alike. In addition to helping in emergency situations, MdM’s staff offers long-term solutions, working with local partners to develop medical practices with the aim of providing universal access to health care.
Now celebrating its 20th year here, MdM first arrived in Japan to assist in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe on Jan. 17, 1995. Japan-based entrepreneur Gael Austin helped MdM establish an office in this country and has served as the Japan president since then.
Staff member Marjorie Meyssignac spoke to Lifelines about MdM’s work in Japan. Hailing from France, Meyssignac originally came to Japan to teach yoga, but volunteer work for MdM Japan led to a full-time position with the group three years ago.
Meyssignac readily admits that people frequently confuse MdM with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), an NGO that was also started by French doctors. While the organizations have similar aims, the two operate completely independently.
According to Meyssignac, in the beginning the MdM Japanese office was mainly concerned with fundraising and sending Japanese volunteers on missions abroad. Since 2006, however, MdM Japan has been carrying out its own plastic surgery missions to help people with facial deformities in Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as implementing a pediatric project in Laos in 2012 with the aim of reducing infant mortality and ill health among young children.
MdM’s first domestic project began in the Ikebukuro area of Tokyo in 2010.
“Tokyo Project is an assistance program for homeless people who are suffering from mental disorders and thus are unable to find a way out (of their situation) on their own,” says Meyssignac. “For that program we work with psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, general practitioners and social workers. We also organize workshops, such as arts, crafts and sports, in order to help rehabilitate the beneficiaries.”
In an effort to give a voice to such vulnerable sections of society and have their needs recognized, MdM also undertakes advocacy activities aimed at both local and national government. Meyssignac adds that MdM is always looking for volunteers to help with their work in Tokyo.
In 2011, after the catastrophic Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, MdM Japan expanded its domestic activities to the Tohoku region. The group worked in tandem with local medical professionals to provide mental health care support in Soma and Minamisoma, both in Fukushima Prefecture, and Otsuchi in Iwate. Although the Otsuchi project ended last year, efforts in Fukushima are continuing.
“We work with volunteer medical professionals to help children, families and elderly people overcome their trauma and, above all, revitalize their life,” says Meyssignac.
A less tangible but equally important goal is to raise awareness in Japan about global issues such as the problems faced by migrants.
“Thanks to our global network, testimonies come directly from our beneficiaries and we believe this has the power to reach the hearts of those in Japan,” Meyssignac explains.
MdM Japan has two upcoming events that may be of interest to the international community:
• On Nov. 15, MdM will host the Housing-First International Symposium at the JICA Global Plaza in Hiroo, Tokyo.
“We will have speakers from France, Japan and the USA, and ideas and solutions to eradicate homelessness in Japan will be exchanged. English-Japanese simultaneous interpretation will be provided, and anyone is welcome to join,” says Meyssignac. There is a participation fee of ¥2,000.
• In time for the holiday season, an online Christmas Charity Draw is planned. Corporate sponsors have donated a large number of attractive prizes, and anyone who makes an online donation of ¥5,000 or more between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15 is eligible to enter. The draw is slated to take place on Dec. 18 at the French Institute in Tokyo, and winners will be notified by email. Donations can be made from Nov. 15 at mdm.or.jp/news/event/xmascharitydraw2015.html.
Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send your comments and questions to email@example.com.