I am a wife, mother of two young children, and a nurse at a large hospital in Boston, MA. Since the summer of 2015, when the Syrian crisis grabbed world headlines, and as pictures emerged of a lifeless boy on the beach in Turkey, I felt overwhelmed, helpless and angry that the world would let this happen. I was paralyzed with the thought that this could be my family… my beloved children washed ashore. After months of feeling quite sad, I knew that I needed to make peace with this situation or to do something. Inaction was not helping anyone.I sought out a U.K. doctor and mother of two children who had just returned from the refugee camps in France. She told me that I would be safe and much needed there. That was enough for me. I discussed it with my husband and began to make plans. I bought a ticket, started a gofundme and raised $9,000 in just ten days. I was joined by two Arabic speaking Muslims who were strangers then (friends of friends) but who I now call family.
We left in December 2015 and worked for five days in Calais & Dunkirk, France. I provided first aid and triaged patients and my friends acted as translators. We tended to so many hundreds of patients that we lost track, in conditions that were deplorable… without heat, electricity or proper sanitation.
I could not wrap my mind around the fact that this was happening in such a wealthy country as France.
Since that trip our lives have been changed forever. We have vowed to raise awareness in any way possible.
We hold fundraisers and talks at universities. I have spoken about my experience on a national NPR broadcast and with local newspapers. Our group has morphed into a team of like minded individuals who are apolitical and unaffiliated with large organizations. We are just people who want to help the fragile, displaced people fleeing war. Out of that idea was born Eyes on Refugees, a grassroots not-for-profit with the mission of helping refugees around the world.
Eyes on Refugees’ largest on-going project has been to help fund the development and equipping of Communal Safe Zones for women and children in the Dunkirk camp. We continue to raise funds to make these safe zones a meaningful space, including communal cooking and schooling spaces, which are critical for keeping families together and children safe.
We also went on a second trip, to Idomeni Greece, in April 2016. We witnessed brutality and aggression from the Macedonian border police and traveled to EKO camp, just south of the Greece-Macedonia border. Minutes after arriving, I was asked to examine a baby. I went into a tent to find a young mother lying on the floor with her three month old baby girl beside her. The baby had a terrible cough with wheezing, and it was work for her to breath. A boy translated that the baby had been seen by doctors at the camp and sent away with nothing.
We decided to bring the family to a hospital in Thessaloniki. At the hospital we explained our situation, and the Greek doctor – a wonderful man who had volunteered in Idomeni and called it a hell hole – asked if I was comfortable taking the family to a hotel to watch the baby overnight. The baby and her 1.5 year old brother’s lung infections were likely due to the fires at the refugee camp, where people burn anything (including plastic) to stay warm. Both children received antibiotics and the baby also got steroids. We checked the family into a hotel and settled in to watch the baby. She had a good night and her health continues to improve, according to her mother. We continue to check in on that family and hope they find stability soon.
I continue to ask myself what I will tell my children when they learn about this refugee crisis. How will I explain the complacency and the brutality of so many?
I do not know the answer to these questions, but until then I will continue to raise awareness and to be a voice for those who do not have one. I hope my children will see in me an example of how to help those in need and how not to take their good fortune for granted.
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