Play Therapist / Child Life Specialist (m/f/x) – Sierra Leone

Voor deze functie is een uitstekende kennis van het Engels vereist. De functiebeschrijving wordt daarom enkel in die taal gepubliceerd.


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international humanitarian aid organization that provides assistance in more than 60 countries to populations in distress, to victims of natural or manmade disasters and to victims of armed conflicts, without discrimination and irrespective of origin, religion, creed or political affiliation. To develop this work, the MSF Medical Department is looking for a: Play Therapist / Child Life Specialist in Kenema, Sierra Leone.


Operational Context

Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality in the world estimated at 1165/100.000 live births before the Ebola outbreak according to Sierra Leone Demographic Health survey (SLDHS, 2013). Recent estimations - based on the loss of health care workers following Ebola - project a rise of maternal mortality to 1900/100.000 live births. Maternal death account for 36% of death of women aged 15 - 49 years in Sierra Leone (D. Evans et al, 2015). 

Likewise, the under 5 mortality-rate was estimated at 156/1000 live births before the Ebola outbreak (SLDHS, 2013). It is among the highest in the world and projected to increase to 191/1000 live births as a consequence of the Ebola outbreak (UN, 2015). Furthermore, severe acute malnutrition of 5.3% and general acute malnutrition of 20.9% were shown in a district wide MUAC screening conducted in Kenema district (April 2015).

The rationale for MSF OCB to intervene in Kenema/ Sierra Leone

  • Sierra Leone has among the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world.
  • Sierra Leone faces a critical shortage in human resources for health (in quantity and quality); which was further worsened by the Ebola outbreak causing many losses of life amongst the health workers.
  • Operational interest of MSF OCB to work in Kenema district – a Lassa endemic region - to continue building knowledge and experience in Lassa (VHF) management and the ability to respond in case of emergencies/outbreaks.

The main objective of the MSF OCB project in Kenema (composed by a hospital and a primary care component) is to reduce child and maternal mortality. To achieve this, 2 specific objectives have been identified with equal importance:

  • To provide safe quality pediatric and obstetric care complementary to existing services at Kenema Government Hospital.
  • To contribute to the development of the health work force competencies.

Description of the project

The MSF Kenema Emergency Paediatric Hospital opened its doors in Kenema District, Sierra Leone on the 6th March 2019. There are currently 2 wards of 35 beds in total to treat acutely malnourished children, 20 beds for non-malnourished children, an 8-bed intensive care unit (ICU) for both non-malnourished and malnourished children and a 4-bed ward to test and support suspected lassa patients. The next phase of development of this hospital will be to expand the ICU and paediatric wards and the final stage will be to open a maternity unit with an accompanying neonatal unit. The hospital monthly average admission is 150 patients with a sharp increase during the malaria season up to 400 admissions per month.

As part of the same project, there are extensive community-based activities and follow-up of patients; as well as assessing needs and gaps in local Ministry of Health (MoH) health facilities to see if MSF can support these.

This hospital, as well as serving the vital needs of the paediatric population in this area, will also act as a training centre for both national and international staff with intensive support from the MSF Academy for Health. Furthermore, it also has the intention in the long term to be a centre for innovation in clinical practice and research.

One of these innovations is to introduce and then create a sustainable play therapy programme for the patients and their caretakers. This programme can then hopefully be rolled out in other MSF projects (after being adapted to context). 

Main objectives of the Play therapy programme

The “ART and PLAY THERAPY for children in MSF hospitals” programme’s main goal will be to provide therapeutic play activities and foster play sessions for children and their families and to raise the general awareness and appreciation of the importance of play to a child’s development and recovery.



  • Design, and implement an evidence-based programme of normal and therapeutic play activities for children in both inpatient and outpatient settings within MSF OCB projects. The programme must be designed to be realistically implemented by national staff in a wide-range of projects. It must also have enough flexibility to be adapted to the cultural context and have guidance on how to do this adaption.
  • Create written/audio-visual resources to support the programme implementation in collaboration with appropriate people from HQ, coordination and project level.
  • Contribute to producing performance indicators and a method of documenting the performance of the programme (likely operational research) so that the programme can be improved upon and potentially rolled out in all appropriate OCB projects.

In addition:

  • Implement and coordinate a play therapy programme of activities (individual and group sessions) in the Kenema project by proposing an intervention strategy adapted to children’s needs, their psychological status, emotions, age and culture.
  • Propose and provide technical guidance regarding the space, play equipment and material necessary to perform play activities, (purchase of toys and games, toy making, define spaces….).
  • Ensure play equipment provision in all areas are appropriate to the child’s age and development, complying with safety standards.
  • Supervise and train project staff so that they can provide therapeutic play interventions for children whilst in hospital (and potentially outpatient settings) so as to help development, express emotions, process stress, alleviate anxiety and fear.
  • Organise play activities in the wards and outpatient departments (and in a play area, if available).
  • Advise and support parents and caretakers in play needs of children in hospital.
  • Participate in the pre-admission preparation of children, thereby reducing the fear and anxiety of hospitalisation.
  • Prepare children medical procedures (e.g. IV cannula insertion, naso-gastic tube insertion, etc).
  • Attend and offer information when needed for discharge planning meetings and case conferences.
  • Ensure all reusable toys are cleaned regularly and cleaning documented to ensure compliance with MSF IPC guidance.
  • Communicate with and participate as a member of the multidisciplinary team (including medical and HP) in the total care of children, advising on play and communication with children.
  • Ensure good communications are upheld between staff and children, and their families; as well as staff and visitors.
  • Produce an analysis report of this pilot project with recommendations for further iterations.



  • Specific degree or certification as Play Therapist/Child Life Specialist


  • Experience as Play therapist/Child Life Specialist for at least 2 years
  • MSF experience preferable
  • Experience implementing pedagogical methods in collaboration with medical staff
  • If possible; experience from living/working in countries where resources are limited and where a creative mind-set is necessary
  • Experience mentoring and training different cadres of staff 
  • Fluency in English (reading, writing, speaking)


  • People Management and Development
  • Behavioural Flexibility
  • Results and Quality Orientation
  • Teamwork and Cooperation
  • Adherence to MSF principles and to our managerial values: Respect, Transparency, Integrity, Accountability, Trust, Empowerment.
  • Adherence to the MSF Behavioural Commitments.


  • Contract type: Fixed term (CDD), 1 year
  • Location: Approximately 1 month to be based in Brussels, Belgium for preparation and design of the programme and then the remaining time in Kenema, Sierra Leone
  • Salary Package: Salary according to MSF-OCB Field salary scale. Transport, accommodation, vaccinations, Per diem + medical insurance are taken in charge by MSF. 
  • Starting date: January 2021
  • Not a family position

Deadline for applications: 22/01/2021

Submit CV and cover letter by online application by 22 January 2021 via the following link. This link will direct you to our online application tool.

Please note that only short-listed candidates will be contacted.

MSF values diversity and is committed to create an inclusive working environment. We welcome applications from all qualified candidates regardless of disability, gender identity, marital or civil partnership status, race, color or ethnic and national origins, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

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