'My final days in the Syria-Lebanon border camps' - #VolunteerDiaries: Dr. Siyana Visits Lebanon
Our founder Dr. Siyana Mahroof-Shaffi, and our long-term Doctor Tomáš Šimonek, have recently returned from their medical mission on the Syria-Lebanon border. Here is Part II of #VolunteerDiaries: Dr. Siyana Visits Lebanon.
Dr Siyana Visits Lebanon: Part II
Camps Nakheel And Zaza
An early start and a productive day. We began by visiting the local hospitals and clinics around the town of Arsal, arranging tests and follow-ups for our patients to ensure their care would continue until we’re able to return (In sha'Allah - God willing). One clinic was very grateful for our presence, as it gave the local Syrian volunteer Dr Heba a well-deserved break. They provided us with a mobile clinic (an ambulance) to work from.
We saw between 50-100 people: men, women, children and the elderly treated and given medication they needed but could not afford.
Contrary to popular belief, the residents of these Lebanese border camps incur huge living expenses. The most shocking revelation to us was that they have to pay rent to the land owners, which is not covered by UNHCR and on average comes to almost £40 per month. In addition, hospitals require payment upon entry before patients can see a doctor or have any tests done.
The most difficult case we saw was 8-week-old ‘S’, who had been vomiting since birth. She was not putting on weight, and her health was only getting worse. Her parents took a taxi to a clinic where a contrast X-ray was done, showing a blockage in her stomach - a rare condition called pyloric stenosis. They will have to wait 2 weeks to confirm her test results. She may need surgery before then. In other countries this simple, life-saving operation could be carried out immediately - but not here.
Al Fahd, Nakheel and Hai Attiibbi Hospital
Just before coming out on this trip, I was experiencing a number of personal challenges. When I finally got COVID three weeks ago, I prayed that if Allah granted me back my health I would put it to good use. With each day that passed in the Syria-Lebanon border camps, it became clearer to me that my trip was the reason He made me better.
I thought that the people in Greek camps had been forgotten; on reflection this seems to be a running theme. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’...
DAYS 6 & 7 Rajab: ‘To Respect’
The last two days were a busy scramble to ensure treatment was given to all those we assessed. This was our last chance to serve the people we met. The team agreed to an early start at the base clinic and we did not stop until after sunset. Word had got around to the surrounding camps, and we were inundated.
We were simultaneously exhausted and glad that we’d persevered to make this trip to the ‘red zone’ Syrian borders. Nearly one hundred patients were seen and assisted - we truly gave it our all.
A tribute to the grandmothers
Many children, like ‘H’ - blind in one eye, and ‘K’ - the 15-year-old with haemophilia, were being cared for by their grandmothers, as their parents had been lost in the Syrian war. These kids are around the same age as my youngest son.
Grandparents are supposed to be able to enjoy the company of their grandkids and then hand them back to their parents. They’re not supposed to become the full-time carers of their grandchildren after their own children are killed - keeping them fed, watered and clean, navigate the complexities of being a refugee in a foreign country as well as ensuring that they are educated and healthy.
There is no time to stop, think or become depressed - they all just carry on. But when will it end?
Somehow, in spite of everything, they maintain the strongest faith. They say “Alhamdulillah ala kulli ha”: praise and thanks be to God for everything.
The outcome of this first assessment is that, undoubtedly, there is so much more to be done.
This 7-day trip took a great deal of organisation and support to ensure that the life I left behind would not fall apart - but at least I have choices. Many of those we met had been coping with the most severe disruption in their lives for almost a decade, and still counting. They pray that every Ramadan will be the last one they’ll spend in these camps, that every year is the last year that babies will be born here.
Their life is so tough here that some have said they would even prefer to return to Syria. Unlike the refugees we meet in Greece, these families stay close to the border of their homeland - forever hopeful that one day they will return and reclaim what little remains of the life they left behind.
I hope that God will bless these beautiful-hearted people who constantly praise Him despite their adversity, and I thank you all for doing your bit to support them, whether it’s financially or in any other way. May God bless you all.
~ Dr Siyana, on behalf of herself, Dr Tomáš, Nurse Safa and Noor
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