„The best I could do“

A review by humedica physician Matthias Schweikhart

by Matthias Schweikhart,  2015/11/10

For four weeks Matthias Schweikhardt, a medic from Kiel in Germany, voluntarily assisted the humedica refugee relief team in the Lebanon. In his personal review he reveals why he thinks this mission was the best he could do despite the occasional uneasy feeling:

“My daily agenda always followed a similar course: in the morning a humedica coordinator and me drove to the near-by office, where the local team members arrived shortly afterwards. Together we loaded our cars with the ventilators and the remedy boxes, which were still heavy in the morning. While driving to one of the refugee camps the team members always talked lively and animatedly in Arab, one could feel them looking forward to the day with anticipation.

When we reached the camp, we quickly set up our tables, disinfected them and prepared the operative instruments. Then the first patients arrived, voluntarily greeted by me with a friendly “Welcome” in Arabic. The people, who fled Syria to escape the horrors of war and now live in the makeshift tent settlements where we work are for the most part young mothers with little children.

When I looked at my patients, I could not help to notice that the Syrian refugee children often are slimmer and more delicate than German kids of the same age. Also the facial features of the adults looked older than to be expected by their patient files. They distinctly show the experiences of war, flight and poverty.

After some time I also learned to recognise the extent of suffering in the eyes of the people. There you do not only see the pride, you were already used to, but also the traces of humiliation and the burden of having lost their middle-class lives and being now dependant on the help and care of other people.

In the evening we packed up our tables and remedy boxes, which by now were quite light. We set out on our way back with the satisfying feeling to have done something meaningful and good and to have brought some hope to the people. The strains of the day were mirrored by the subdued mood in the car on our way back.

There is a wide difference between the Western atmosphere of our residence Zahlé and the tent settlements, which recall slums. Although I spent the whole day in the refugee camps, I can not even start to imagine what it means to live there constantly not knowing what the future brings and whether I will ever be able to return to my home.

I especially remember our visit to camp number 4, which offered a shocking and sad sight. In this camp the children played in the midst of garbage and the number of infectious diseases was higher than everywhere else. In comparison to other camps the knowledge level of the children appeared to be lower and the feeling of lacking prospects and hope was depressing.

When I think back to my assignment in the Lebanon the uneasy feeling comes back that I experienced before my departure while reading the many safety manuals meant to prepare me for all eventualities. At the sight of the occasional war plane in the sky above Syria and the ever increasing conflict this underlying feeling never left me during my stay in the Lebanon.

This kind of engagement also wears you out personally, so that in the evening and on weekends I often asked myself what actually I was doing here. But these thoughts were instantly swept away, when I visited the next of the refugee camps we took care of and looked into the big brown eyes of a small child with fuzzy hair and filthy clothes standing before me coughing.

I can say from all my heart that the assignment with humedica was by far the best I could achieve in the course of my short-term operation in humanitarian relief aid. Like nowhere else the time I spend at the Lebanon was filled with meaning, work and joy. The first class team and the amazing superiors succeeded in spreading empathy and happiness. When I recall this time I do so with deep gratitude.”

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