Medipeace has a Business Management Division responsible for overseeing operations. The head of this division is Director Lee Sang-mi(36).
Medipeace is collaborating with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) on the "Strengthening Senegalese National Public Health Laboratory System Project." Director Lee is leading this project as the Project Leader(PL) and is currently on a business trip to Senegal since last month (July) .
An interview was conducted via video call with Director Lee on the 8th of August, 2023. During the interview, questions were asked about the Senegal project and Director Lee's life as an international humanitarian activist.
The interview was conducted with the Medipeace's Communication team.
▲ Director Lee Sang-mi
Q. Hello, Director. It's nice to see you looking healthy, even though it's through a screen. It's been about a month since you went to Senegal, right?
Director Lee Sang-mi(Lee): Hello. Yes, I arrived here on July 13th, so I have a little over a month left.
Q. How long will your business trip last?
Lee: This trip is planned for two months. After returning to our headquarters in Seoul and working for a month, I will come back to Senegal for another two months.
Q. I see. Could you please introduce the project that Medipeace is carrying out in Senegal?
Lee: Currently, Medipeace is collaborating with KOICA on the Strengthening Senegalses LNSP (Le Laboratoire national de Santé publique). LNSP can be translated as "National Public Health Laboratory." Our project aims to enhance the diagnostic capabilities of LNSP, monitor antibiotic resistance, and support the effective functioning of the national infectious disease surveillance system through Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Q. What progress has been made so far?
Lee: The project contract was signed on March 31st, this year and the project is scheduled to continue until 2026. Since we are still in the very early stages, our main focus is on setting up base of the project. When I first arrived, even the office wasn't prepared, so we had to start from office preparations. Since this is a bilateral project between Republic of Korea and The Republic of Senegal, we are explaining the project to Senegalese government officials and obtaining the approval of stakeholders in Senegal step by step to initiate the work.
Q. Who are the stakeholders you mentioned?
Lee: In Senegal, there is a government agency responsible for laboratories, called the Department of Laboratory, which has directors. Under this department, there are also directors at LNSP. These directors can be considered as stakeholders.
▲Director Lee Sang-mi (second from the right in the photo) is in a meeting with LNSP officials. The person on the far right is Researcher Bae Min-ju from Medipeace
Q. How is the process of obtaining consent from local stakeholders?
Lee: Given that the project's objective is to enhance the capacity of Senegalese public health laboratories, it is generally welcomed by the Senegalese government. However, delving into the specifics, there can be differing perspectives, making it not always straightforward. We need to find a middle ground that we can accommodate while also persuading and moving forward.
Q. Whom do you meet with most frequently?1
Lee: In the office, I frequently meet with Bae Min-ju, the researcher who arrived on the business trip slightly later than I did, and the local staff. Outside the office, I meet with the directors of LNSP most often.
Q. Hello, Researcher Bae. (Greetings) Director, what is the most memorable experience during this business trip?
Lee: It was on the first night of the trip, around 10 to 11 PM, when I arrived at the accommodation here. I was so tired that I showered and immediately went to bed, but after just 30 minutes, the air conditioning shut off.
Q. Was there a power outage?
Lee: Yes, it was a power outage. However, it's a bit different from power outages in Seoul. Here, electricity is pre-paid. Since I hadn't pre-loaded the electricity, there was a sudden outage. So, in a room at 30 degrees Celsius, I had to endure the heat all night with accumulated fatigue. That's the most memorable moment.
Q. It must have been really challenging.
Lee: Yes, it was quite challenging, especially due to the heat. Even though Seoul can get over 30 degrees, here it's around 35 degrees Celsius every day. When dealing with external tasks, it feels like I'm melting from the heat.
Q. What does a typical day's schedule look like?
Lee: I tend to start work a bit early in the morning. Since I need to communicate with the head office's Medipeace Business Management Division in Seoul, I usually start around 7:30 AM. If there are meetings or other commitments, I might adjust my start time by an hour. After work, I either go grocery shopping or head straight home. There's not much else to do after work; you could say I'm a bit of a homebody.
▲ Director Lee Sang-mi is being greeted by a herd of cows in front of her house on her way to work.
Q. Do you have your meals on time?
Lee: It's either because the heat is quite overwhelming here, or perhaps due to dehydration after the tough first night, my condition hasn't been great, so I haven't been eating well. I mostly manage with just one meal a day, often having protein powder or sandwiches. Fortunately, I've been enjoying sandwiches with spreads like blue cheese or Gouda. I like various spices and trying new foods, so food hasn't been a major challenge for me.
▲ The baobab tree's fruit has formed
Q. Blue cheese is considered quite sophisticated, and its strong flavor can be divisive, so it's good to hear that you enjoy it.
Are there any memorable experiences you've had in Senegal?
Lee: There are baobab trees here, just like the ones from "The Little Prince" by Saint-Exupéry. During my last trip, I saw a baobab tree without the leaves that we typically associate with them, but this time, I saw trees with leaves and the one even bearing fruits, which was fascinating. I was also deeply impressed by the passionate dedication of the LNSP directors.
▲ Go on a business trip to Dakar, the capital city 70km away from TS City, usually ride a taxi for safety
Q. Since it's an unfamiliar place, I suppose safety should be a priority.
Lee: Yes, indeed. When searching for accommodations, my first priority was to find a house with security personnel. In most residential areas of Dakar, the Capital of Senegal, there are security guards, but here in Thies, houses with security personnel are quite rare. Nevertheless, our local staff fortunately managed to find one. During the night, I try to avoid going out and, if necessary, I use a vehicle.
* Part 2 of the interview with Director Lee Sang-mi continues, focusing on "Life as an International Humanitarian Activist“.