In the years since 2011, the war in Syria and the plight of the refugees had caused me constant, palpable heartbreak… There had to be something concrete I could offer.
A WP4H Member’s Unexpected Journey to Greece
by Mary Tobin-Anderson
Despite all of the atrocities visited upon humans throughout history by other humans, never before have we as a population received a daily dose of the horrors fed directly into the palms of our hands via smart phone in real time. In the years since 2011, the war in Syria and the plight of the refugees had caused me constant, palpable heartbreak, yet I could not turn away. If there was nothing else I could do, at least I could bear witness to the unimaginable suffering. However, this never felt like enough of a response. There had to be something concrete I could offer.
What I gained from my journey to the Syrian refugee camps in Greece was so much more than what I gave…. – Dr. Mary Tobin-Anderson
Over the following year, my mission evolved. I was blessed to discover my path to volunteer my medical skills to take action to help the people who had been occupying my thoughts and prayers. Being a member of Women Physicians for Humanity strongly inspired me to take the next step and gave me some direction. The support I received from other members was encouraging and uplifting.
On January 6, 2017, I boarded an airplane to Thessaloniki, Greece as a volunteer for the Syrian American Medical Society Global Response. Despite my apprehension with the unknown, my uncertainty immediately evaporated as I met my new colleagues. It was my privilege to be part of a team of other health care providers who were similarly spurred to, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
The following day, I began to meet many Syrians, from whom I would learn so much. It did not take long to begin to hear stories from my new patients that were a testament to their resilience, resourcefulness, and lovingness. A particularly poignant patient interview brought tears to my eyes as the mother of a little girl who was experiencing failure to thrive described how they had had to pull neighbors from the rubble of their building after it was bombed.
Our Syrian refugee translators were also a rich source of background and context as they graciously opened their hearts and shared their experiences from the war. One young man who fled the Syrian war, left behind his education, which focused on English literature. Without our translators, our work could not have been accomplished. They were a vital link in communication, not only of the clinical needs of each patient, but the stories that unfolded. With their help, I was able to easily connect with my new patients.
Many days at clinic, I almost forgot that I was not just in my usual office back in the U.S. The patients I saw mostly had the same concerns and hopes as my patients in the U.S. They wanted reassurance that their blood pressure and blood sugar level were normal. They just wanted safety, stable housing, and a place to rebuild their lives for themselves and their children. The children were delightful and vibrant. They lit up, just as mine would, at the Disney Frozen ruler on the wall used to measure their height. They tolerated blood draws and injections with barely a whimper-these children who had already been through so much.
As the last days of my mission drew to a close, I felt simultaneously happy for what I had been able to do to help and also sad that I could not do more. What I gained from my journey to the Syrian refugee camps in Greece was so much more than what I gave. I will never forget the resilience and fortitude of the Syrians.