Dame Claire Bertschinger DBE DL Sixth Form Talk

On Friday 1 December Dame Claire Bertschinger visited the School to speak to the Sixth Form girls about her experience in delivering healthcare to areas affected by armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies.

In her talk she described her astonishing career as a nurse with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in over a dozen war zones across the world.

Describing her medical care for Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, the girls were struck by the demanding nature of her work on the frontline of war and the importance of maintaining a friendly and affable nature to build relationships with a range of personalities.

All were inspired by stories of the kindness she received in seemingly hostile places. The importance of hope and shared humanity in responding to humanitarian disasters were important themes of her talk.

Dame Claire gained international attention in 1984 when BBC News reporter Michael Buerk featured her in a report on the famine in Ethiopia. In an era before satellite communications, the internet, social media and smart phones, the television report shocked the world and was re-broadcast by more than 400 television stations worldwide. It inspired musician Bob Geldof to write the charity single “Do they know it’s Christmas” and to launch the Live Aid concerts, which are still one of the largest television broadcasts of all time.

Since retiring from full time field work, Dame Claire lectures at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine training other medical professionals in providing healthcare in resource-poor settings and raising awareness of key issues in global public health. Increasingly, Dame Claire has become convinced of the centrality of education, particularly of women, in making and sustaining any improvements. She has recently featured in a list of the top 10 most influential nurses of all time (a list that included Florence Nightingale and Margaret Sanger).

Dame Claire later joined the girls for dinner, where she described her experiences of being held at gunpoint and spoke of the need for self-awareness when living in such dangerous circumstances. She also spoke of how the reality of aid work is often that the scale of the problem is such that the job never feels complete after leaving an affected region.

Dame Claire’s talk helped to raise money for A-CET, a small UK charity helping vulnerable young Africans achieve their potential through education and upgrading rural elementary schools.

Esmé, LVI