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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Adeen: Shepherd, father, Syrian refugee.

    by Emily Crowe | Apr 11, 2017

    Tune in for the next three months for a focused look into what being refugees has been like for one Syrian refugee family. Five years ago, Adeen and his family gave up everything to seek safety as refugees in Lebanon. Now, they live in a refugee settlement and are trying hard to build new lives. This is their story.

    Adeen worked hard in Syria to give his children a better future. Now, their lives are on hold as they struggle to survive in a refugee settlement in Lebanon. We provide care for his family in their settlement, but can't give his son the open heart surgery he needs.

    A shepherd in Syria before the war, Adeen worked hard to provide for his family. Where he's from in Syria, it’s traditional to take children out of school at 10 years old to work. Teenage marriage is the norm for girls. 

    But Adeen wanted his children to have more choices. Even though he wasn't allowed to continue, he loved school as a child. He was adamant that his daughters continue schooling through university – one aiming to become a math teacher, another studying IT. He even supported his brother so that his nieces could afford to stay in school.

    When the war came, Adeen’s first priority was to protect his daughters from sexual assault. Seventeen people from his neighborhood were abducted over a short period of time. No one knew by whom. Houses were burning and bombs were falling, Adeen says, and no one was safe. The conflict between warring factions in Syria was heating up, and Adeen knew he had to escape to protect his family. His family were some of the first refugees to arrive in Lebanon. However, this meant leaving their livelihoods and home behind.

    We asked Adeen’s wife, Khawlah, how her life is now compared to before. “I had a comfortable life in Syria. We never had to ask for help from others, so we had our dignity intact. But now, each day is worse than the day before.”

    Now in Lebanon, the family lives in a ramshackle settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Their focus has turned to survival, eking out a daily existence and staying healthy. They can no longer afford school and the children are now six years behind in their schooling. Instead of going to classes, they work in Lebanese farms for $4 a day.

    Their farm earnings help cover their living expenses, but is not enough to pay for all the medicines for Adeen’s chronic illness or to pay for his son's urgently-needed open-heart surgery. Despite this, he's adamant that his daughters should not be forced into early marriage and is hopeful they will be able to finish their degrees one day. Adeen is thankful for the support his family has received. But, he knows much more must be done. “The needs are serious," he says.

    As months have become years, the family's hope is slipping away. Recently, they made a plan to give all the money they’d saved to their second eldest son to venture on his own across Turkey and into Greece. From there, he’d work his way north to Scandinavia, where he could establish himself, finish his education, get a job and, when he’d earned enough, send for his family.

    This ambitious plan is all the family has right now.

  • Refugee Family Spotlight: Leaving Syria, Kareena lost her education.

    by Tyler Graf | Mar 31, 2017


    Kareena lost her education when her family fled Syria. She holds onto the hope that she'll be able to finish her degree someday. Your support provides medical care for her family, especially her aging father. 

    Every refugee’s story is different. Tune in for the next few months for a focused look into what being refugees has been like for one Syrian refugee family. We provide medical care at their settlement. We’ll be sharing the unique story of each family member – revealing what it’s like to be a mother, father, son or daughter in a refugee settlement. Join us to hear their stories, fears, and hopes about their future.

    Before the Syrian war, Kareena’s biggest worry was failing an exam.

    She lost her education when she fled Syria, and with it an investment in her future.

    Life was simple for Kareena, who studied information technology at a university in Homs. She was surrounded by friends and family, spending time with them when not studying. “I had a regular life in Syria,” Kareena said. “I hoped to finish my studies.”

    But one year into her studies, war broke out. Kareena was just 20 years old when news of the fighting circulated in her community. First, there were rumors – civil unrest had spawned murders and kidnappings. Then the bombings began in nearby towns, proving the rumors correct.

    Trips to the university were perilous, Kareena says. She had to take multiple taxis to ensure no one was targeting her. This was a serious concern because of the high number of abductions that were taking place at the time. While she and her friends were never targeted, others weren’t so lucky. Many university students lost their lives simply because they sought an education.

    Life in Homs had become treacherous. There were kidnappings and murders. Dead bodies were even discovered at the university Kareena attended. Kareena’s family was forced to make a difficult choice – leave everything behind or stay and die.

    By leaving Syria, Kareena gave up her education.

    Five years after the start of the war, Kareena sees how it will affect future generations. “There are (many kids) who are not able to study,” she said. “Many children are being born in the camp, so they are not educated. Forty percent of the kids here are not going to school.”

    Kareena’s parents are firmly committed to her finishing her education. This commitment inspires her dream: Someday returning to Syria to finish her degree.

    One of Kareena’s top concerns is the lack of educational opportunities for young Syrian refugees.

    “Many kids go to school for one year and then stop,” Kareena said. “Transportation is difficult and expensive. Some parents want their kids to work instead. It’s tradition in Syria that families take kids out of school at 10 years old for work.”

    In Lebanon, Kareena cannot pursue her education. She works in a farm field six months out of the year, making $4 a day.

    Having left her bright and normal life behind, Kareena, now 26, wonders what the future will bring. Among her peers, it’s curious that Kareena isn’t married. In Syria, teen marriages are the norm. Even more surprising is that Kareena’s parents are firmly committed to her finishing her education.

    This commitment inspires her dream: Someday returning to Syria to finish her degree

  • Syrian Refugee: A Family Scattered Across the World

    by Sarah Austria | Mar 27, 2017

    For Awash, the hardest part of being a refugee is not having a home. In Aleppo, Syria, her hometown, she lived in a house on a farm. That house is gone - bombed, destroyed - along with her village. Now, she lives in a tent. Grocery bags hang from the walls. Awash lives with her husband in an informal refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

    Amidst the chaos of recent years, the sixty-four year old grandmother does not even know how many grandchildren she has.


    A mother of 6 sons and 7 daughters, Awash and her children now live in different corners of the world. Two of her daughters live in Lebanon but the other five are still in Syria because their husbands didn’t want to leave. These daughters witnessed the recent battle in Aleppo. Awash, concerned like any mother would be, said, “I am really worried about them.”

    Awash crossed the border into Lebanon by herself but now lives with her husband and two of her sons in the informal refugee settlement. Of her other sons, two are in Turkey, and one lives in Norway. Another is still in Syria.

    Her large family is scattered in so many different places - most in transition, some in danger.

    One of her sons teaches at the informal school that his children attend in their settlement in Lebanon. The cost of living is high in the settlement, making it difficult for him to raise his family. Another son works in the field. Awash and her husband do not work and recently lost their food vouchers. Although they are safe, life is not easy.

    One of Awash’s sons has become a Refugee Outreach Volunteer with Medical Teams International. As a Volunteer, he connects community members with Primary Health Clinics and monitors their health at home. He has one very special community member whose health he monitors regularly - his diabetic mother, Awash.

    Awash has had diabetes for 10 years. Thankfully, her son can buy her insulin. And now, as part of his training and responsibilities as a Refugee Outreach Volunteer, he is able to measure her blood sugar every 20 days - or more often if she isn’t feeling well. She is lucky that her husband is healthy, but another of her sons is also diabetic. Life is difficult for them.

    Thanks to your support, Medical Teams International is in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, caring for Syrian refugees by creating a sustainable health system. A network of 500 Refugee Outreach Volunteers have been trained in 100 informal settlements like the one Awash and her family live in.

    It’s hard to imagine how Awash must feel.

    However, she is still hopeful that one day she will go back to Syria. After all, that’s truly home. Far from home, and from most of her children, she is realistic and grateful for what she has. Of her current home she says, “The best part of living here is that there is no fear.”

  • Blessed rain! Treating refugees in Uganda.

    by Cindy Lund Bickley | Mar 22, 2017

    Cindy is serving right now as a volunteer in Northern Uganda, providing free health care to refugees fleeing violence and famine in South Sudan. Read her most recent story from the field:

    Blessed Blessed Rain!

    Thursday, it RAINED! We had a pretty good rain to wash the dust off all of the plants last night and enough to cool it down to the mid-eighty degrees. I am so grateful to be able to start the day off without breaking out in a sweat!


    Thursday, the patient load was pretty light (200 or less). Around 1pm, I was able to visit my translator's family and tour his home. Wow! What an experience to get a glimpse of how refugees live. I was met with such a warm welcome. The family was sitting on a makeshift platform all scrubbed and clean, wearing their best. The area ground was swept and cleared of any debris. They had borrowed a plastic lawn chair for me to sit on. What an honor to be treated like royalty.

    David took me to his mud house that he had shaped and built. Proudly, he showed me his bed that he had constructed of branches and ropes. Hiss house had one triangular window about 8 inches long carved out of the mud. You could see sunlight coming in around the edge of the steep thatched roof. The only other piece of furniture was a small, roughly-built, square foot table holding his prized processions: flash light, Bible and some of his sketches. His clothes were in small grocery sack hanging from a nail in the wall. The door consisted of some roofing metal put together with a hinge. He had a birthday bag hanging from another nail. In the birthday sack was a new bed sheet that he had won recently in a talent contest. He mentioned he was saving it for a special occasion.

    The only other piece of furniture was a small, roughly-built, square foot table holding his prized processions: flash light, Bible and some of his sketches.

    He took me over to his sister's house and showed me her place. It was a little bigger but had a mat on the floor for his sister and her twin babies, and a hand-woven string hammock for his sister's mother-in-law. Their sole possessions were in a small cardboard box.

    After visiting for a short time, many of the neighbors started coming over along with their children. Soon, they were filling their courtyard. Along side of the courtyard was a short building made of sticks tied together. I asked David what it was. He told me the kids wanted their own church so they built one. He is planning to put a thatched roof on it. Before I knew it, several of the kids were in the structure and started singing.

    It still makes me smile seeing this picture of pure, innocent joy - having fun and worshiping their Creator with song... They don't have toys and hardly any material possessions. They have experienced war, hunger and family turmoil. They could still play and be kids with pure abandonment!

    My translator, David, told me he and his family had made the choice to leave with the clothes on their backs. He said that he had personally seen five of his friends die. They tried to survive, hoping to go back to their home, but there wasn't any food and it was too dangerous.

    They have experienced war, hunger and family turmoil. They could stillplay and be kids with pure abandonment!

    What was amazing that he did not sound bitter or angry about his situation.

    I am amazed at the resiliency of the refugees; how they overcome such atrocities and still mange to be upbeat. I see the very sick ones waiting for hours to be seen and to be treated, willing to give you a smile " a God Bless you" and a thank you before leaving.

    Who have you thanked today?

  • Jose's path to health includes Mobile Dental Clinic

    by Tyler Graf | Mar 16, 2017


    Jose took the day off work and traveled more than an hour to visit a Mobile Dental Clinic. When the pain in his mouth became too excruciating, he made the visit at the recommendation of an ER doctor.

    As the pain in Jose’s mouth grew more intense, he found himself losing sleep and having trouble eating.

    A construction worker living in Southeast Portland, Jose, 46, doesn’t have access to employer-provided health insurance. For the past decade, he's avoided dentists, believing he could manage any problems that arose on his own.

    But the pain in his mouth is like something he’s never felt before. It hurts “like hell, like I lost my jaw,” Jose says from the small waiting area aboard Medical Teams International’s Mobile Dental clinic.

    The pain is a sign of something serious, Jose says. Once it grew unbearable, he sought treatment at the emergency room, only to be turned away. The doctor there told Jose he needed to see a dentist. 

    A couple of weeks later, Jose hopped in his car on his day off from work to make the hour-long drive to a Mobile Dental Clinic in Hillsboro, Ore. Clad in a University of Oregon sweatshirt, Jose chats about college basketball as he waits his turn to see a dentist. He says he's overjoyed to have access to dental care for the first time in a decade.

    “I wouldn’t be able to afford it without this clinic,” Jose says.

    Married with a daughter and a son, Jose says he wants to take better care of himself in light of a health scare he had a couple of years back. That’s when doctors diagnosed Jose with diabetes, complications from which left him bedridden for three weeks and temporarily blind.

    He nearly died, he says.

    Now he goes to the gym regularly with his son and tries to eat better. But with his teeth in bad shape, the thought of eating anything makes him think of nothing but pain.

    The clinic’s volunteer dentist confirms that Jose had a serious cavity and infection. He’ll need to extract the tooth to relieve Jose’s pain.

    The extraction takes about 20 minutes. At the end of it, through a gauze-filled grin, Jose says he's grateful for the help. As a working man with a family, he'll only take a helping hand from strangers as a last resort. The help he received at the Mobile Dental clinic both eased his pain and lifted a weight of worry from his mind.

    He says he would like to use the service again, possibly to seek care for his young daughter. She also requires dental care that is more expensive than what he can afford, he says.

    He thanks everyone who eased the pain in his life and made the clinic possible. Now, he can continue focusing on making healthy changes to his lifestyle.