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  • Reflections: Helping Syrians Refugees in Serbia

    by Emily Crowe | Dec 29, 2015

    Originally appeared on "Seasons and Sojourners" Blog. Read it here.


    By Dr. Henry Reitzug

    Sayid, in limited English, speaks for both of them, “Tsank you,” he says with a slight bow. The “th” gives him trouble, just as it did me when I was an immigrant in America many years ago.Carrying their possessions on their backs, Syrian refugees Sayid and Nabilah are spent as they reach the Humedica aid station. Nabilah sheds her pack and bedroll attached to it, collapsing onto the blanket-covered bench in front of the clinic. The last hill of the three mile trek from the border exceeded her limit. Rivulets of perspiration course down her temples onto her flushed cheeks. She pulls off her gloves, and cradling the cup of hot tea I hand her, allows it to warm her hands. Tired eyes express her gratitude.

    Photo-by-Reitzug-Road-Less-Traveled-Syrian-refugeesIn truncated phrases Sayid speaks of their home in Aleppo, destroyed by bombs at the beginning of the war. After moving in with relatives they were bombed out again. When they survived yet another attack on their neighborhood, they had no place else to go. As he describes the destruction of his beloved ancient city, his eyes cloud over. Images of bombed out Berlin, Dresden, Coventry, and so many others in World War II come to my mind. The stories of destruction and the horrors of war, even told in shreds of sentences, are so familiar, and still so senseless.


    Dr. Henry, a pediatrician, began serving with Medical Teams International during the Kosovo War in 1999. Since then, he's served on four continents and impacted many lives. His upcoming book, Seasons and Sojourners, shares his insights and experiences. We're honored to share his experiences here-- volunteers like Henry make such an incredible impact on vulnerable lives around the world. Read his other posts here.

    Please note that Dr. Henry's posts and opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of Medical Teams International. Please get in touch with us at if you have any questions or comments.

  • Reflections: Volunteering with Syrian Refugees

    by Emily Crowe | Dec 25, 2015

    Originally appeared on "Seasons and Sojourners" Blog. Read it here.

    By Dr. Henry Reitzug

    It is 7 am, three days before Christmas in many parts of the world, but not here. Already two dozen heavily bundled Syrian refugees are huddled on blanket-covered benches in front of the Humedica aid station. Dads, moms, and children are munching bananas and mandarin oranges handed out by volunteers, while fighting off the icy fog’s chill with chai tea. The volunteers working with German-based Humedica greeted the refugees as they began coming up the hill from the border an hour earlier. After arriving by train at the Macedonian-Serbian border at midnight, some of the families had to spend the night outside at the packed reception center. At first light they began the three kilometer trek up the winding road to Miratovac village.

    With a mixture of gratitude and guilt for having slept in a warm sleeping bag on a soft futon – indoors – I help unpack our bins of medicine in the small store-front clinic, part of the Humedica aid station, and prepare to treat patients. As a Medical Teams International volunteer augmenting Humedica’s refugee relief effort, I arrived in Serbia four days ago.

    Syrian-child-in-SerbiaTwo men with toothaches, another with a headache since leaving Turkey four days ago, a few runny noses, an upset stomach, and a kind young dad with four little girls wait for our attention. The youngest of the four girls, a one year-old, is blind. Her two year-old sister Mayd, sporting a runny nose and a cough, bravely allows me to examine her. Her right ear is flaming red infected, but she does not fuss. With Amoxicillin and Paracetimol in hand, the dad places his hand over his heart and thanks me in the genteel Arab way as he departs.

    Warmed up, topped up, and medically treated, the families leave to trudge the last 500 meters to waiting buses taking them to Presevo’s one stop registration center ten kilometers up the road. There, comfortable buses wait to take them across Serbia to the Croatian border. More registrations, more hikes across no-man’s land at borders, more buses, and more trains are in store for them as they make their way to the hoped for land of milk and honey. Every kilometer takes them further from the comfort of ancestral homes, but also the conflict of senseless war.

    Frostbitten-toes-Syrian-refugeeFrom Turkey to Germany, Europe has become a refugee board game. As they hopscotch from one country to another, for most the goal is to reach Germany or Sweden. If you are not Syrian, Iraqi, or Afghani, however, you cannot pass Go or collect the proverbial $200. Two Moroccans tried to access Serbia illegally yesterday; their game ended with a Go-To-Jail card. For those deemed legitimate asylum seekers, the game starts with a hazardous boat trip from Turkey to one of the Greek islands. With the hucksters who run the boats fleecing the fleeing, the desperate game ends prematurely for one out of every 50 players. Desperate to escape, new players come by the thousands. Nearly a million so far.

    There are good cards and bad cards along the way. If you land on the road to Hungary, you miss a turn, maybe even get trapped dealing with unfriendly police. If your train arrives after 10 pm at the border of Macedonia and Serbia, you miss the last bus from Miratovac to the Presevo registration center. If the border reception tents are full, it might be your fate to stay outside in freezing weather. Worn out shoes, or worse, worn out feet, will also slow your progress. Ditto if you get ill. They are frequently drawn cards.

    Refugee-family-SerbiaBut there are good cards too. An exhausted Syrian woman collapsed on the bench in front of the clinic and pulled off her disintegrating boots to look at her purple feet. While the feet looked like she might need to exit the game, she was in luck. After re-warming her nearly frost-bitten feet, the Humedica volunteers cheerfully outfitted her with wool socks and new boots from the storeroom of donated items. With two warm cups of chai warming her insides, she was made road-worthy again. A baby sitting on a mother’s lap next to her received clean diapers, a new hat and mittens from the baby room. A man whose woefully inadequate jacket left him shivering received a new winter jacket. These travelers drew the Christmas card. With at least as much gratitude as most children display on Christmas day,shukraan’s – thank you’s – were offered with hand over the heart and a bow of the head. And then the race to the goal resumed. For most it is Germany.

    By the time the muezzin’s recorded chant sounded through the tinny loudspeakers calling the local Muslim Albanian population to noon prayer, we had seen an additional 25 patients, with hundreds more receiving sustenance of some type.

    While we were running out of bananas, Leann, an English lady who had come to Miratovic with her dog to “help the refugees” was hard boiling one thousand eggs for the next wave of players. While the eggs were still hot, they began to arrive. After visiting the food tent and getting a cup of chai, many came to the clinic, particularly the pregnant women. Teresa, our nurse from Oregon had brought her fetal Doppler. Hearing the baby’s heart invariably brought smiles.

    With the sun burning off the icy fog, a warm winter day had developed by 1 pm. Perspiring in her heavy fur collared winter coat, Genan Asaad, collapsed as she crested the hill in front of our aid station. The three kilometer walk had been strenuous for her 52 year-old body afflicted with high blood pressure. By the time she was carried into the clinic, her exhaustion, the daunting task of an additional 2,000 km ahead of her, and, most of all, the weight of the loss of home and country fully impacted her. No longer numb to the bottomless anguish of her life, the dam burst and the tears flowed. And flowed! With her daughters hugging her, and Teresa and I comforting her, tears became contagious.

    But they were also cathartic. Privileged to be part of the intimacy of a grief too much, I was amazed as Genan recovered. Having spent her tears, she enjoyed one more hug from each daughter, one more comforting squeeze of the shoulder from each of us, wiped her tears, reined the emotions back in for another day, and resolutely got up. With “God bless you’s” and “As-salamu Alaykum’s” to send her off, she passed the test of this watershed moment, assuring her survivor status.

    And so it goes for half the population of Syria and a good many from Iraq and Afghanistan, afflicted with a grief too much, fleeing one home and seeking another.

    Dr. Henry, a pediatrician, began serving with Medical Teams International during the Kosovo War in 1999. Since then, he's served on four continents and impacted many lives. His upcoming book, Seasons and Sojourners, shares his insights and experiences. We're honored to share his experiences here-- volunteers like Henry make such an incredible impact on vulnerable lives around the world. Read his other posts here.

    Please note that Dr. Henry's posts and opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of Medical Teams International. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions or comments.

  • Local kids "do good" for Syrian refugees

    by Emily Crowe | Dec 23, 2015

    How much can one high schooler do to change the world? In the case of Jason-- a local varsity basketball team captain-- and his team from Bear Creek, a lot.

    Compelled by the heartbreaking challenges facing Syrian refugees this winter, these students worked hard to rally their community and make a difference. Together, they held a bake sale, gathered supplies, caroled, and met with local businesses to get much-needed health and hygiene supplies to ship out with Medical Teams International.


    Thanks to their donations, over two-thousand dollars' worth of supplies will be shipped to Syrian refugee families in need-- helping dozens of families stay safe and healthy. 

    We're so proud of their hard work, and honored to witness their heartwarming compassion. Because of their support, refugee babies will have clean diapers and children will be able to wash with soap. Families will be safer, and healthier, on their long journeys ahead.

    Thank you to all who have shown such incredible generosity for those in need this holiday season. You are impacting precious lives!


  • Crippled in a refugee camp: One Syrian woman's journey

    by Emily Crowe | Dec 22, 2015

    “I am too old to dream. I just want to go back to Syria, my homeland.”

    Just three years ago, Foza had a home and farm that kept her happy and busy. She felt safe. She felt free.

    Then the bombs came. When her hometown, Homs, was destroyed, there were bombs everywhere. One of her relatives was killed. Her neighbor was killed. The bombs destroyed everything.

    After the attack, Foza fled with her family to the settlement camps in Lebanon. In 2012, when she arrived, the camp was a miserable place. Her home had been safe—the tent she now shared with relatives easily flooded, doing little too protect her from summer’s heat and winter’s freezing temperatures. Disease and hunger were so common, and everyone—even the children—were haunted by the awful war.

    She felt overwhelmed by stress, fear and depression. She didn’t understand how she was supposed to survive in this new life. She began suffering from dizziness and felt sick often. Everything felt difficult. She felt so miserable.

    Now crippled, Foza is confined to her tent in the refugee settlement. You support makes sure doctors are there to give her the treatment-- and compassion-- she needs.

    Then, one day, it got worse: Hit by a wave of dizziness, Foza fell to the floor. She was rushed to the hospital. There, she found out what was wrong: Low blood pressure, asthma and troubling leg problems, brought on by the fear and anxiety of the war and her new refugee life.

    Soon, she was no longer able to walk at all. Already feeling trapped by her refugee status, she couldn’t believe that she would also now be confined to the thin walls of her tent.

    Traveling to a clinic was next to impossible. However, with her health issues, it was vital that she receive frequent check-ups to make sure she was taking the right steps to keep her health in check.

    Thankfully, your support has made sure Foza is not alone.

    Every month, our doctor visits her tent in the refugee settlement in Lebanon to check in and make sure she is getting the care she needs to maintain her health. It can’t bring her mobility back, but it keeps her healthy—and serves as an important reminder that people care about her—her family, the doctor, and people like you who provide the care she needs to stay healthy.

    Foza has lost a lot: Her friends, her home, her mobility, have all been taken by war. She’s depressed by her disability and how much it’s limited her life. Although there is no treatment for her heartbreak, your support is a reminder that her life has value.

  • Making the greatest sacrifice: Klym's story

    by User Not Found | Dec 22, 2015

    Klym’s mother felt her heart drop. She and her four-year-old son live in a region of eastern Ukraine. Here, innocent bystanders are often caught in the middle of violent clashes between rebels and Ukrainian forces. Today, she learned, rebels were attacking her precious son’s preschool. She was terror-stricken. What if he was trapped in the crossfire?

    klym_ukraine_childShe rushed to the preschool. She arrived to find her son afraid…but alive. Klym’s mother was desperate to get him home and away from the fighting.

     That’s when the fighting started again.

    Klym heard the deafening explosion of the bomb. He felt his mother running faster and her arms wrapping around his tiny body. They both fell to the ground. Silence.

    The bomb killed Klym’s mother instantly. The horrified child shook his mother. Her body had protected him, but his mother was gone.

    A neighbor found Klym crying next to his mother’s broken body and drove him to the nearest hospital. Serious injuries from the bombing still threatened to take his innocent young life.

    When Klym arrived at the hospital, the doctors were grateful to have the supplies and medicines they needed to safely treat Klym’s wounds—supplies provided by the compassionate supporters of Medical Teams International. Generous donations funded Klym’s crucial operations. Without this lifesaving care, Klym’s story would have a very different ending. At best, he would have suffered permanent nerve damage in his left arm. At worst, he would have died. Only time will heal the pain of losing his mother-- but at least now Klym is on the road to recovery.

    The support of people just like you saved Klym’s life. There are countless children around the world just like him who face disaster, conflict, and poverty every day. Please pray for hope and comfort in the midst of these unspeakable hardships. Share Klym’s story as a symbol of hope and encouragement. Consider making a donation to Medical Teams International.

    You strengthen and enable this lifesaving work. On behalf of Klym and all those touched by Medical Teams International, thank you.