Former banker finds riches in aid work

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 August, 2004, 12:00am

Having travelled to the far ends of the Earth providing medical treatment to the poor, Dick van der Tak has found chemistry between people crosses all cultural boundaries.

More than 10 years' service with Medecins sans Frontieres in mostly poor countries has given him plenty of opportunities to observe human nature.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire and China all appear on his resume.

A lawyer trained in social-economic law, Mr van der Tak was working as humanitarian affairs adviser for MSF in Amsterdam when he applied to become executive director of MSF in Hong Kong at the height of the Sars outbreak. He wasn't scared off by the disease.

'I know epidemics come and epidemics also go,' the 42-year-old said, adding it was also time for him to show faith in MSF and to reach out to the people of Hong Kong and the mainland during the medical emergency.

His tasks in Hong Kong include fund-raising, raising public awareness of MSF Hong Kong and recruiting volunteers and medical staff to serve in needy countries.

Hong Kong people donated $58 million to MSF in 2002, supporting relief work in 47 countries.

'Doctors and nurses back from MSF missions are very proud of their work. This not only adds to their professional experience, but also broadens their horizons. I think those experiences are something that stays with people for life,' he said.

'Having travelled to every possible corner of the world, I find it's the chemistry between people that I can identify and relate to and share.'

While Mr van der Tak tries to remain positive, he admits there have been times when he has had doubts - the most recent occasion being in June when five MSF staff, including one of his close friends, were killed in Afghanistan.

MSF was forced to withdraw from the country after 24 years of service to Afghans.

Shocked by the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1993, he quit a well-paid job in Holland the following year to join MSF.

'Working in banking can provide a big career in terms of money, but I think MSF work contributes to a more fulfilling and satisfying life,' he said.

MSF Hong Kong celebrates its 10th anniversary on September 3.