Songs from the Field

Doctors Without Borders staff share the songs that help them unwind, push on, or discover unexpected moments of joy.

Philippines 2014 © Nacho Hernandez

We asked some of those workers to tell us what songs have inspired or uplifted them during their time on assignment. From “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan to “Todii” by Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi, our Spotify playlist "Songs From The Field" contains five hours of music that inspires Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) workers all over the world. Here, Mike White, Kim Federici, Patrick Nagle, and Mireille Ibrahim share their stories.

Mike White: I consider listening to music to be an important part of life, especially during those times when I’m going to be living and working in an unfamiliar place for nine months or a year. When I’m away, music is one of the few things that I can control. It can inspire and uplift me. It’s calming and sentimental.

Kim Federici: ["Ordinary Love"] lives in my head every time I leave for, or am living in mission since I first heard it.

Mike White: There are times when you just need to escape and music can do that. It gives me a sense of home, of something familiar, something I can rely on. I remember being in Leer, in South Sudan, and listening to “Girl from the North Country”—that song by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan—over and over again.

Mike White: I was in my tukul—a classic mud hut with a thatch grass roof. I had a single bed with a mosquito net, no lights. It’s so dark in some of these places; there’s no light pollution. I remember I had had a rough day, and I was just alone in the dark with my memories. I listened to that song on repeat. I just needed to not be where I was at that moment and the song took me home.

ITALY 2015 © Julie Remy/MSF

Patrick Nagle: I never felt pity but did often feel sadness on assignment. ["The Way It Is"] helped and still helps me to go to sleep with tears and wake up with a smile.

Mireille Ibrahim: Working internationally a dance party is a great way to bond with colleagues, it allows the stress of the day to be released, and gives a moment of distraction from the serious issues that are around us. To listen to music together around a table and talk about what happened that day is very comforting. And when a favorite song comes up it can start a sing-along that fills your hearts with laughter and joy.

GUINEA 2015 © Sam Phelps

Patrick Nagle: ["Too Late for Mama"] is a sharp memory for me, seeing women and their babies in Darfur. They are walking out into the bush for firewood and waiting countless hours waiting for their turn to fill up jerry cans at the wells. They would also turn out to be victims of warfare by bullets, bombs, and sexual violence.

Mireille Ibrahim: When a situation seems too difficult or overwhelming an inspirational song can give us strength to carry on, it can motivate us to push through. On assignment when we get through the stress and difficulties, the rewards are immense and the impact is life changing for ourselves and those we mean to aid.

Mike White: In Juba, South Sudan, my then colleague and now wife created an epic party playlist featuring P Square’s African chart topper 'Chop My Money,' a tune that I heard a billion times in Nigeria, where the band is from.

For more songs from the field from Doctors Without Borders staff, check out our Spotify playlist: