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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Do You Agree?

    by Lindsay Sullivan | Apr 02, 2018

    When you hear a word often enough, it can begin to lose its weight.

    Refugee. Famine. War.

    You hear these words over and over in the news. You’re inundated with information. Overwhelmed by statistics and the magnitude of pain in the world. You can become numb to the suffering.

    For more than seven years, you’ve heard about bloodshed in Syria. Other conflicts are drowned out by the local news of the day. Like the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The civil war in South Sudan. Or the renewed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    There is a lot of suffering in our broken world. And it’s easy to think that your actions are insignificant.

    But they’re not. Your actions matter. You matter. To real people in difficult places.


    You matter to Anora.
    She ran from her burning village in Myanmar, carrying her only son. When they arrived in Bangladesh, her son became weak with hunger. His bones protruded through his skin. Your support trained refugee volunteers to reach out to their sick neighbors. It was one of these volunteers who found Anora’s son and carried him to a Medical Teams clinic. There, the doctor gave him life-saving nutritional supplements. You spared Anora the heartbreak of losing her son.


    You matter to Diana.
    Raped and left for dead in South Sudan, Diana managed to get to a refugee settlement in Uganda. Now she suffers from depression and PTSD. The things that once gave her joy now trigger her PTSD. Thanks to you, a Medical Teams mental health professional visits Diana each week. Diana was feeling alone and scared but now she has support and care.


    You matter to Maha.
    In Syria, Maha had completed high school and dreamed of going to college. She had to flee when ISIS occupied her home. Violence turned her life upside down. But now she finds fulfillment in something else–caring for her neighbors. Medical Teams trained Maha to care for other refugees in her community with illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. Now Maha has a new dream–to become a nurse.

    I’m going to make a guess. I bet if you’re reading this blog post, you believe every person–no matter where they are or how desperate their circumstance–matters. You care about hurting mothers and children you may never meet. They matter to you. And you matter to them.

    I hope the next time you hear the word “refugee” you think of Anora, Diana, and Maha. I hope you know that you are touching real lives.

    Through your actions, you’re letting suffering people know that they are loved. You’re reassuring them that they are not alone. You’re showing them they matter.

    You can provide life-saving medical care for refugees. Please give today.
  • A Time of Rebirth: Reflections on Easter

    by Joe DiCarlo, Global Ambassador | Mar 30, 2018

    Uganda, Maaji refugee settlement, 2017 (9)

    On Easter Sunday, families will gather in churches, living rooms, and at dining room tables all across the country. They will pray, eat, laugh, and play. Outside, children will hunt for Easter eggs, basking in the renewal of spring. It's a joyous time when everyone can receive new life because of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Christmas is a significant holiday on the Christian calendar, but Easter (resurrection day) is even more important than Christ’s birth. Jesus was born for Easter. Jesus’s resurrection was the purpose of his birth.

    As we approach this Easter holiday, I reflect on its significance in my life. This is a time of new birth--a time of rebirth. At Easter, I think of lives transformed, both here in the U.S. and around the world, wherever people are suffering. 

    In my nearly two decades working for Medical Teams International, I've seen many lives transformed. In places like Uganda and Lebanon, refugees cross borders as mere shells of their former selves—frightened, angry, and alone. But once they cross the border they receive compassionate care from Medical Teams staff at one of our many clinics. It is there you begin to see the transformation. The fear and hopelessness begin to melt away, and new life begins.  

    It’s a privilege to witness the work Medical Teams is doing to bring life and hope to people who have only known darkness, despair, and death. It’s important to not only be in the business of healing the body, but also the mind and spirit. All over the world, Medical Teams is striving to do just that—address the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of people in crisis.

    And we can’t do this on our own. Wherever we work, Medical Teams incorporates the faith community into what we do. In Africa, it is reported that 74 percent of people trust their spiritual leaders more than anyone else in society. Faith leaders in a community have tremendous influence in improving the health of women and children, the most vulnerable in society. Through this influence, what seemingly were impossible challenges become solvable solutions.

    This is why Medical Teams works with local churches, integrating them into our programming in places like Tanzania and Uganda. Aligning behaviors to the guiding principles found in the Bible, we work collaboratively with other faiths to reach as many people as possible. It may be the first time Christians and Muslims worked together in a community, but there is no better cause for collaboration than to improve the health of their own women and children, building bridges and peace.

    Wondering if there's evidence of success? In Uganda, we saw a dramatic decrease in rape and gender-based violence after Medical Teams health officers brought together 15 faith leaders to help address the problem. I recall visiting a clinic in southwest Uganda where a Muslim Imam stood up representing the group and said, "We are one in this community. Every morning we pray for this clinic, the health care providers and the patients going into the clinic. When we heard about this problem, we went out to our congregations and addressed the issue.” 

    When you touch just one vulnerable person, salve her suffering with grace and care, you can begin to see in her eyes the budding of a new life. Each day, we see stories that evoke the Easter spirit of resurrection and new life.

    Like many of you, I'll be spending Easter Sunday at church with my family. But a week later, on April 8, I'll be in Lebanon, home to more than one million Syrian refugees, celebrating Orthodox Easter. Once my plane lands in Beirut, I plan to attend an Easter service in one of the many churches there. At this time of unprecedented need, I feel blessed to be able to spend this Easter season with Syrian refugees.

    What Jesus did on the cross for us–his death and resurrection as the penalty of our sins–demands we respond and give of ourselves, to bring life and hope to people in great need around the world. Easter is the ultimate manifestation of God’s grace, love, and mercy. It is also an opportunity to show the same grace, love, and mercy to people living in a hurting and broken world.  

    Christ Is Risen.
    He is Risen Indeed.
    Happy Easter!

    This Easter, as you find yourself reflecting on people who are in dire situations around the world, please pray—pray for those affected by war, conflict, and extreme poverty. Consider making a donation to support efforts to bring loving care and rejuvenation to families yearning for health and stability.

  • Two Women Find Strength in Kindness

    by Roseann Dennery | Mar 28, 2018

    In light of celebrating the strength and resilience of women around the world this month--and every day at Medical Teams International--I would like to share the story of two women I recently met in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

    Bangladesh, Areafa and Sonomaher, 2018
    Areafa (left) and her grandmother Sonomaher.

    Their names are Areafa and Sonomaher--a grandmother and granddaughter, tied together by a common strength. 

    Areafa grew up in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, where most Rohingya lived. She has two small children and a husband, and lived on a green pasture with cows and water buffaloes. Just six months ago, during a morning she will never forget, a militia came storming into her village with machetes, fire, and rifles. “Everyone leave! Now!” they screamed, as they lit anything within reach on fire, and began firing off rounds and wielding machetes to chop limbs. Ash and blood covered the ground.

    “I grabbed my children and ran. There were so many gunshots. I was so afraid… my husband ran next to me." She pauses with tears filling her eyes. “So many were hit. It was torture.”  

    She scooped up her grandmother as they fled and began the arduous journey to the border of Myanmar. Areafa's mother joined the group. Three generations of women ran for the border. “I just remember being chased. And running and running,” Areafa said. 

    They walked for days. Their feet bloodied and sore. And then, they waited for 16 days at the border.

    After an exhaustive and painful journey, with open wounds and broken spirits, they finally arrived at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

    I met Areafa and Sonomaher inside their hut. It was on the corner of a small terrace, accessible by four narrow and steep steps, up the dirt path from the clinic. Tattered, fraying rope tied to bamboo slats held their home together. A draped, dusty black tarp was wrapped around the exterior. A strung pale blue mosquito net sagged in the middle of floor, clumsily offering some small semblance of privacy. 

    As we approached, we heard intense wailing, an agonizing mourning that grew with each step. We quietly knocked. Areafa’s eyes peeked out through the narrow slat under the roof of her hut, barely wide enough to let the hot, stale air flow through. The almost translucent, gold-lined fabric of her hijab revealed little, yet her gaze told a story of a thousand words. Her eyes, laden with tears. Their pain, bottomless.

    She begins sharing rapidly with our translator, pointing her long finger up the hill as she peered through the small opening. She stops and looks away, sobbing.

    Our translator runs his hands through his hair as he shook his head. “No. No.”  Almost simultaneously, Areafa’s head hangs down, heavy from the weight of her grief. 

    “Her mother died two nights ago.”  

    I felt my heart plummet. My eyes stung with hot tears as they found Areafa’s, extending an imperfect offering of sympathy. I stood sweating under the blazing noonday sun, feeling equally awkward and useless, sensing her pain from the other side of her hut wall but not being able to access it.  

    “Please ask if we can pray with her.” Our translator hesitated. “I’m not sure she will say yes.”  “Please, just ask.” Areafa listened and nodded, opening her door to us.

    She swiftly rolled out a mat as her tears still fell. I sat, patting the ground next to me to summon her.

    And then, we offered her the only thing we could. Our presence. 

    If you have ever sat with someone in a time of active grief, before the shock and numbness set in, it feels like trying to frivolously cap a gushing geyser. Spilling forth, unbridled, wild, raw. We nodded and prayed, over and over again, our quiet prayers filling the space. 

    Bangladesh, Areafa, 2018
    Though she lost her daughter, Sonomaher finds the strength to smile.

    Soon, the door creeps open. Sonomaher peers in and walks in slowly. Areafa’s grandmother. Nearly 100 years old. The mother of the one who passed away. Frail, yet impossibly strong.  Her face softens at the sight of us laying, weeping with her granddaughter.

    She sits down and gazes at me. Her face was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.  

    With her head in my lap, she reached her hand into mine, fragile and soft and warm, like a grandmother’s hand should be. My eyes brimmed with tears over the tenderness she was offering me, a total stranger. She then closed her tired eyes and rested the full weight of her head.

    My mind was ushered to this verse: “You keep track of all my sorrows…. You have collected each one of my tears in your bottle…”
    Psalm 56:6.

    Just then, I had an overwhelming visual of our Savior, gently moving to capture each precious tear that fell in that hut so that not one would go unaccounted. 

    The act of remembering. The fierce and precise love of God... to which no tear is futile or forgotten. I closed my eyes and thanked Him for this stirring reminder that He is near in our deepest moments of pain. Impossibly near.

    We hugged and said goodbye, that we’d be back, that we would not forget. I left, knowing very little about them but feeling so connected after entering this holy, sacred space. 

    I went by the next day, and they ran to me and wrapped their arms around my waist. Areafa buried her face into my neck. Her eyes danced with recognition. Sonomaher slipped her hand into mine again and looked at me intently with that same tender gaze.

    We sat. I listened to their story. They are fighting for life after loss here in the camp. They are holding out for a future for their children and grandchildren, one that is filled with education and promise. They are longing for a land full of vegetation and freedom, not of dust and devastation. They are aching for justice. Yet they will keep hoping. Because as women, this is what we do. We hope relentlessly for our children, for our communities, for our future.

    Bangladesh, Areafa, Sonomaher and Roseann, 2018
    The author, middle, shares a special moment with Areafa and Sonomaher.

    Before I left Bangladesh, I captured these photos to portray the strength of these two women who have been through hell and back. I wanted to share their story as a reminder of the power of presence, of the pursuing love of Jesus, of the power you wield to bring love and healing to people half a world away.

    You can make a difference in the lives of strong, resilient people caught in the crossfire of war and persecution. In Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees need love and care in equal measure. By using volunteer health workers alongside international and Bangladeshi medical staff, Medical Teams is expanding its reach to serve more people in the refugee camps. You are the engine that powers this work. Please donate today.

  • A Grim Anniversary for Syria

    by Sarah Vanderburg Austria | Mar 14, 2018

    March 15 marks seven years since war began in Syria. Nearly 11 million residents, half of the pre-war population, have been forced from their homes, fleeing to other parts of Syria or to neighboring countries. Families have lost livelihoods. Babies have lost parents. Children have lost dreams. Over the course of the war, Medical Teams International has met Syrians, whether displaced within their country or as refugees outside it, along their journey to safety and healing.

    How Medical Teams Helps Syrian Refugees

    After fleeing horrendous violence, refugees then struggle to survive without basic health care. By meeting the medical needs of Syrians trapped in besieged cities and those who have settled as refugees in neighboring countries, Medical Teams International relieves some of the pressure on host countries and makes sure refugees get the life-saving care they need.

    As refugee populations have moved, so have we. Medical Teams International worked in Greece as the country saw a major influx of refugees from Syria. We met them there and brought them healing. As the war continued, Medical Teams International shifted our work to focus on refugees settled in Turkey and Lebanon.

    Trapped in Syria

    PHC photo 2As of today, 13 million people left in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid. Bombings and horrific acts of war make basic needs like food, water, and medical care difficult to find. As clinics and hospitals are destroyed, health care becomes less available. Now, fewer than half of the medical facilities in Syria are functional. Horrifically, the remaining clinics are increasingly targeted by attacks, putting countless more lives at risk.

    Patients trapped within the borders of Syria urgently need medical supplies and support. Through a partnership with International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation, Medical Teams International provides shipments of much-needed medicine and medical supplies to facilities providing care within Syria.

    Even amidst intensified attacks in 2018, we're thankful we can continue delivering vital supplies to underserved clinics and hospitals in hard-hit areas. More than 250,000 people have arrived in northern Idlib since January. We immediately increased our response by activating six health centers in the area. In northern Syria, where security and economic conditions regularly drive qualified health workers to leave, Medical Teams is currently supporting 50 health workers to enable them to continue providing health care to more than 700 patients every day.

    Community Health Workers

    As more Syrians are forced from their homes and unable to return, effects of the crisis reverberate throughout the region. Most Syrian refugees live in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, largely in cities, with a much smaller portion residing in informal refugee settlements in rural areas.Syrian-refugee-Maha

    Host countries try to care for the refugees, but their infrastructures can’t absorb such immense numbers. Tensions are increasing between host countries and refugee populations, leading to discrimination against Syrians. Any savings the refugees may have had at the beginning of the war are likely gone. It's a challenge for refugees to find jobs, and with a lack of income they can’t afford to pay for housing and other essentials.

    In areas with strained health care systems, Medical Teams International trains refugees as Community Health Workers. Community Health Workers are trained to identify chronic health conditions and connect patients with available medical care. In doing so, they extend the reach of limited healthcare providers -- advocating for their neighbors and families and avoiding additional suffering.

    These locally-trained refugees are an invaluable asset to the health of their communities, where there are simply not enough medical professionals. The training also presents a valuable educational opportunity for refugees, and a way to apply their experiences and resourcefulness to make a positive difference for their community.

    Trauma and Mental Health Care

    Seven years of war affects not only physical health, but mental health as well. Many Syrian refugees have lost everything and witnessed horrendous violence. Impacts on mental health, sometimes labeled “invisible illnesses,” are painfully real. Stress-induced hypertension and stress-induced diabetes are serious or even deadly if left untreated.

    In refugee settlements, we train Community Health Workers to identify these illnesses and refer patients to proper care. We also provide education on lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms for patients who can’t access medication.

    Even when medical care is available for refugees, access to mental health care is usually not included. Mental health disorders without treatment can have deadly effects on families. Medical Teams International partners with local centers and clinics to provide mental health assessments and referrals for care in these communities. As the war drags on and programs focus on long-term healing, this will be an increasingly important issue.

    Where We Go From Here

    The enormity of the Syrian war and the repercussions on the people of Syria is daunting. However, we owe it to Syrians to continue to pay attention and to support them with our commitment to their healing.

    The grandmother suffering from diabetes, the infant brought safely into the world in a refugee settlement, the parents seeking help for the traumatic effects of war...These are the faces of real people experiencing this crisis, who in the midst of seven years of turmoil have felt the effects of YOUR love in the form of prayers and medical care. Thank you.

  • International Women's Day: Celebrating women around the world

    by Martha Holley Newsome, President and CEO | Mar 08, 2018

    Bangladesh, Martha and Fatima, 2018 (4)
    Medical Teams International President and CEO Martha Holley Newsome meets with women at a health clinic in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

    Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a particularly fitting day not only to pause and reflect, but to act. 

    Gender inequality continues to be one of most pervasive human rights issues of our time, and despite strides made to close the gender gap, there is still no country on earth where women have achieved economic parity with men. Women are woefully underrepresented in government as only one in four parliamentarians are women worldwide. Even worse is the fact that one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime. 

    When we lift women up and give them equal footing – whether it’s knowledge or employment opportunities or health care – entire communities rise. As the "Times Up" and #MeToo movements have shown us here in the U.S., no country is free of gender-based inequality. But in developing countries, this cycle of suffering results in preventable deaths.

    Right now, we have the profound opportunity to stand with women around the world who are breaking barriers and remind them they aren’t alone. Please take a bold stand with us and choose to support women who need our action.

    In places of disaster and conflict, it’s the women and girls who bear the greatest brunt of injustice. From the womb to the tomb, their stories make up a litany of discrimination and obstacles. More than two-thirds of the world’s refugees are women and children. By the time this day is over, 830 women will have died from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. More than half of the world’s poor children live in women-headed households. 

    You are changing this. 

    Today we applaud the courageous women around the globe who are committed to improving the lives of those in their communities. I’ve met some of these women in the places Medical Teams works. Their strength and convictions moved me. In the rural foothills of Guatemala, I walked alongside women we trained to help bring babies into this world safely. In Bangladesh, I sat with female Community Health Workers, refugees we trained to educate their neighbors on the importance of vaccinations and disease prevention.    

    We know that women are usually the ones who respond first in a crisis, who sacrifice everything to provide for their children, and who play a key role in the survival of their families and the resilience of their communities. That’s why in all we do, we partner with women to help them both realize their God-given potential and assume leadership roles. 

    Community Health Workers


    In settlements in Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Uganda, refugee women are looking for ways to keep their communities healthy. In Bangladesh, one of these volunteers is a young woman named Yasmin, who dreams of one day becoming a teacher. Bright, dedicated, and bursting with potential, Yasmin loves serving her neighbors. “I want to help others with the education I do have – being a Community Health Worker allows me to do that.” 

    Providing women in Uganda with nutritional support for their children

    Uganda, Brenda and Sabrina - malnutrition and malaria, 2017 (12) 

    Imagine spending days walking through the countryside, scared and hungry, your children clinging to your side. For South Sudanese refugees, this is a common story. Around 80 percent of all refugees in Uganda are women and children, many of them severely malnourished. In settlements throughout Uganda, we identify women with severely malnourished children, like mom Brenda and baby Sabrina pictured above. At this settlement in northern Uganda, Brenda received nutritious food and malaria medicine for her sick baby.

    Support for pregnant women

    Guatemala, Sheridan - Irma for PW, June 2016 (8)

    In Guatemala, indigenous women are at a significant disadvantage. They are twice as likely to die during childbirth as non-indigenous women. Women like Irma, pictured above, don't have health resources available to them. It's difficult for women like Irma to receive the check ups necessary to identify potential complications. In Irma's case, health promoters with Medical Teams International determined that Irma, pregnant with twins, was at risk of a breech birth. But with the help of nurses and midwives, Irma successfully gave birth to two adorable babies.  

    Traditional Midwives 


    No child or woman should die during childbirth. Yet it happens far too often in Haiti, where young women regularly give birth at home without supervision. Haiti has the highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. We've worked to empower women in rural Haiti by training midwives and educating pregnant women. After 23-year-old Altinise, pictured above in pink, gave birth to her baby girl, she started bleeding. She was shivering and dizzy, and the bleeding wouldn't stop. That’s when a birth attendant, trained by Medical Teams International, stepped up and put her knowledge to work. That birth attendant was also Altinise's mother, Jaqueline, who used an abdominal massage technique to lessen the bleeding and save her daughter's life.
    Right now, we have the profound opportunity to stand with women around the world who are breaking barriers and remind them they aren’t alone. Please take a bold stand with us and choose to support women who need our action.

    We believe every day is International Women's Day. Our Healthy Women, Healthy World initiative mobilizes women here in the U.S. to be agents of change around the world by promoting and advocating for women's health issues.