Doctors Without Borders chapter launches on campus

Nov. 13, 2018, 12:22 a.m.

In early October, Stanford received approval from Médecins Sans Frontières — known in English as Doctors Without Borders — to launch a student chapter of the international nonprofit organization. Founded by Matthew Zheng ’22, the new student group aims to advocate for and support Doctors Without Borders at the collegiate level.

Doctors Without Borders was founded in 1971 by a group of journalists and doctors in Paris, according to the organization’s website. Since then it has developed into a worldwide network of more than 45,000 doctors, nurses, medical professionals, logistical experts, sanitation engineers and other administrators, many of whom are volunteers.

“What makes Doctors Without Borders unique is that [it is] willing to do the work that other people aren’t, in the places that other people don’t want to go to,” Zheng said. “That includes conflict zones, natural disasters, epidemics and mass disease outbreaks.”

On Oct. 26, the chapter held its first general meeting, and on Nov. 3, it elected the five members of its executive board. According to Zheng, about 40 people initially signed up, and the board expects between 20 and 30 people in attendance per meeting.

“The general members we have right now include freshmen, first-years like myself, all the way up to [graduate] students,” Zheng said. “We had an extremely wide range of people interested in the organization. There [are] quite a few coders … there’s obviously quite a lot of pre-health and pre-med, and then there’s a lot of people who are interested in [international relations] and economics.”

Saw Kyaw ’22, the chapter’s publicity officer, said he was drawn to Doctors Without Borders by its focus on global health; in particular, he cited the organization’s impact on his birth country, Myanmar.

“Global health is a passion of mine, especially because my birth country Myanmar is still undergoing health crises which Doctors Without Borders is actually addressing,” said Kyaw. “I wanted to be able to contribute to an organization that was helping not only my country Myanmar but also so many others.”

While details will be worked out in upcoming meetings, Zheng said that the club plans to hold its first fundraising initiative soon, wherein it will team up with a consortium of high schools in Saudi Arabia.

However, the group has yet to be recognized by the ASSU.

“Right now, technically, in the eyes of Stanford University, we are not an official student group, or at least not a group that the ASSU sanctions,” said Zheng. “That being said, we’re operating under the guidelines of an unofficial club right now, which is fully allowed by Stanford.”

The executive board hopes to be recognized sometime during winter quarter. In the meantime, they are working on drafting a constitution, finding a faculty advisor and completing other parts of the application process. As the chapter continues to develop, Zheng and the board are looking to bring in more members interested in the group’s mission.

Zheng said he became interested in Doctors Without Borders after working for the organization over the summer as a field manager in his hometown of Sacramento, where he saw the work the organization does and the difficulties it has to maneuver around. In particular, he cited the organization’s refusal to accept political funding.

“The reason why [Doctors Without Borders does not accept political funding] is because they don’t want to follow anybody’s political or personal agendas,” Zheng said. “All they care about is saving human lives. While that gives them an incredible amount of flexibility and trust in the areas they serve … it also means that most of the fundraising comes from individual donations.”

It was Zheng’s summer with Doctors Without Borders that prompted him to bring the organization to Stanford, in hopes of reaching students with a variety of interests that could be applied to help support the organization.

“It seems to me like these issues command a lot more attention than just pre-med and pre-health students,” Zheng said, “because fundamentally the work Doctors Without Borders does, though chiefly medical in nature, really reaches to the heart of what basic human dignities are, and that summons the attention of a really wide range of people.”


Contact Patrick Monreal at pmonreal ‘at’

Patrick Monreal '22 is the forefather of the satire section. He still kind of hangs around meetings and pretends to contribute to news. A native of Fresno, California, he is majoring in Earth Systems on the oceans track and minoring in chemistry. Contact him at pmonreal 'at'

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