"My patients motivate me every day; they are a constant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit"

Nicolas Machi is a prosthetist-orthotist from Argentina who has been working in the humanitarian sector since he was young. He arrived in Syria in July 2020, and has also worked with the ICRC in Iraq and China.

How long have you been working at the ICRC?

I started working with the ICRC in 2017 and am currently on my third assignment.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in a humanitarian organization?

I knew I wanted a career with an international organization, and that drew me to humanitarian work. From an early age I worked with various humanitarian and non-governmental organizations. I started out as a volunteer raising money for refugees and organizing activities for people with disabilities.

Could you tell us more about your previous assignments?

My first assignment was in Mosul, Iraq, where I helped set up a new physical rehabilitation centre with the local health department. While it was being built, I also spent time at the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation centre in Erbil, treating people living in Mosul or the nearby camps for displaced people.

In my second assignment, I was involved in several projects across southern China. Our team worked with the Yunnan branch of the Red Cross Society of China at the Kunming physical rehabilitation centre, which focuses on underserved communities along China’s southern border with Viet Nam and Myanmar. Together with the Chengdu Second People’s Hospital, we also developed assessment and treatment protocols for patients with diabetic neuropathy. We also provided prosthetic services to underserved communities near Tibet and to people affected by the 2008 earthquake.

In Syria, I provide support to a centre in Aleppo that provides prosthetic and wheelchair services for people affected by the armed conflict. I am currently working with the health department in Homs to launch a new project with a small physical rehabilitation centre there.

What are the challenges of working in Syria?

The biggest challenge for me personally is how difficult it is to spend time with my family. Even in normal times Aleppo is difficult to get to, but now, with COVID-19 protocols making international travel even more challenging, I cannot see my children as often as I would like.

Work-wise, Syria is complex and presents many challenges. The prolonged conflict has left infrastructure in ruins. This, in conjunction with international sanctions, has caused an economic crisis that is affecting the day-to-day life of civilians. Our patients have difficulty getting to the centre, and we must plan up to a year in advance to ensure we have the equipment we need to keep the centre functioning. The coronavirus is just one more obstacle impacting our ability to provide desperately needed services. We’ve had to limit the number of patients that we can work with to keep our patients and staff safe.

What is it like to work in a country where so many people are in such great need?

There’s certainly a lot of work to do in Syria from a humanitarian perspective. It can feel overwhelming walking in the city and being surrounded by destroyed buildings. But I try to focus on my work, and how our small contributions can make a big impact in the lives of the people we work with.

What motivates you?

My patients motivate me every day; they are a constant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. I am very fortunate to be able to see the immediate impact of my work. A patient will often stand up and take their first steps right after the first fitting of their prosthetic leg, which feels incredible every time. It’s heart-warming to see their expression change as they try the prosthesis.

Could you share an inspiring moment from your work with patients?

I am particularly moved when I work with children who are about the same age as my own kids. All they want is to be able to go back to school and play with their friends again. Some other patients are trying to return to work so that they can earn a living or support their families. Each person has a unique story.

What does it take to be a humanitarian worker in the field?

Patience and flexibility are essential. Things hardly ever go according to plan and you have to be prepared for delays, schedule changes and even cancellations. It helps if you can find other ways to accomplish your goals.

What would you say to someone considering a career with the ICRC?

I would say don’t hesitate. You won’t regret it!


The physical rehabilitation centre in Aleppo, where Nicolas Machi was working in 2020, provides prosthetic and orthotic devices for lower limbs, mobility aids (crutches, walkers and wheelchairs) and physiotherapy to help patients adapt to the devices they receive. A multidisciplinary team of specialists also provide complementary care, which includes mental health and psychosocial support services. These services are fully integrated into the centre, given that many patients have suffered traumatic losses, been forced from their homes by conflict, or have lost their jobs owing to their injuries. To ensure they get comprehensive care and help them integrate into the social and economic life of their communities, patients can be referred to places where they can play sports or learn skills to help them earn a living. Support for transport and accommodation are provided to those who need it most, such as those coming from hard-to-reach areas and areas with limited transport. The physical rehabilitation centre provided services to 524 patients in 2020 and expects to serve 1,000 patients in 2021.

Interested in following in Nicolas' footsteps? You can find our health related positions here.