#VolunteerDiaries: Dr Erin's Story
*Disclaimer: text may be upsetting for some readers
Having worked with Kitrinos Healthcare in 2017 in Thessaloniki, in January of this year I returned as a volunteer GP to work in Moria Camp on the island of Lesbos. In 2017, the refugees were mainly from Syria, including a large group of Kurds who escaped Kobane when it was under siege by ISIS. In Moria, however, the vast majority of people I saw were Hazara, from Iran and Afghanistan. Moria Camp Is a stark contrast to the pretty town of Mytilene a few kilometres away. One side is the usual barbed wire, security and concrete bunkers of refugee camps. Outside this, there is an overflow of people living in a forest of tents and tarpaulins, living in unacceptable conditions with open sewage running through the street.
There is rarely a quick fix in medicine, and this issue increases ten-fold when it comes to refugees. You can fix their infection or their fracture but can do little to heal their trauma. Recently I saw several brave young women who have been shockingly abused in their short lives. Terrible stories of imprisonment, torture, sexual and physical abuse. For at least two of these women, the legacy of this is mental illness, anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidality. Though we wish we could heal emotional wounds as well as physical ones, this is not easy, as proper treatment of such issues may require long-term therapy and specialist care - very difficult when patients don't know how long will be staying in the camp.
To help improve mental health in Camp Moria, Kitrinos runs daily individual sessions in Trauma Tapping Technique, a proven self-help method for alleviating emotional stress, while waiting for professional help with local psychiatrists or MSF who has a dedicated but overworked psychological service for victims of trauma and torture.
The Kitrinos team was a pleasure to work with. Despite running on a shoestring budget, the facilities are excellent with good record keeping and follow-up. It’s the only general practice model with follow-up, investigation and referral that I have worked in. The organisers, support staff, nurses and doctors were friendly, compassionate, professional and a real joy to work with. The translators - many of whom are refugees themselves - were amazing. They work long days translating stories of sadness that often reflect their own journey to Moria.
What keeps the brave residents of Camp Moria going is hope. The hope they will leave the camp, that they will get a job, that their children will be educated, that they will be safe and that see their family and homeland again. Until that happens, they need our help.
A big thanks to all my friends who so generously donated to Kitrinos Healthcare @ Moria Camp Lesbos. AUD$6662 (£3,700) was received in total from a fundraiser as well as generous direct deposit and cash donations from friends and patients. Over AUD$1000 was spent on medications which travelled in my luggage all the way from Sydney, Australia, to Camp Moria, Lesbos Island.
- Dr Erin, Kitrinos Healthcare volunteer, January-February 2019.