Project Stories:

„The sum of innumerable individual fates“

A review by the emergency team member Dr. Elmar Kreisel

by Dr. Elmar Kreisel/LKO, 2017/01/21

For our voluntary team members a relief intervention for humedica always entails concrete insights in the troubles and worries of the people they assist so selflessly. During his emergency mission in Greece the Mülheim practitioner Dr. Elmar Kreisel witnessed up close what kind of marks the flight from violence, war and poverty leaves on both body and mind. In his personal review he noted his experiences for you:

„Three years ago I had decided to become a part of humedica to assist people who suffer hardship through no fault of their own. After a successfully completed training I could finally take part in my first relief intervention. By the end of 2016 I went as a temporary medical replacement to two refugee camps near the Greek city of Thessaloniki.

Working as a trauma and hand surgeon with my own hand-consultation hours and experienced in the daily routine of a clinic emergency unit with regular emergency services, I covered a relatively wide medical spectrum. However, my participation in this relief intervention involved far more: with all my strength I wanted to help especially refugee children to build up dams of courage against the fear.

„We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.“

Martin Luther King

Already on the second day I visited the refugee camp Vagiohori situated remotely aside from Thessaloniki, where humedica provided medical care for approximately 60 unregistered refugees. There were also at least 20 children. Guarded by the military, the camp inhabitants lived on a fenced terrain, where 50 dreary tents had been put up in rows on meagre land, totally unprotected. The refugees had no electricity, no heating, not even warm water. My consultation hours took place in an unheated tent, too.

Life under precarious conditions: the scanty refugee camp of Vagiohori. Photo: humedica

Yet especially these Spartan conditions spurred me to give everything. I was courageous and even performed minor surgery with the help of our mobile ambulance. I opened abscesses and removed a skin tumour from the nose of a former Pakistan police commissioner. That provided for a little trust from the families. But also simple hugs, encouraging words or joint games of soccer broke the ice and helped to lighten the atmosphere among the children.

The harmonic collaboration of our Serbian-Croatian-Macedonian-Syrian-German team encouraged us to dare also spontaneous operations: When it started to snow heavily on my third evening, I could not help thinking of the exposed accommodation of the refugees in the Vagiohori camp. I therefore contacted my coordinator to explain the acute danger to the life of the refugees. Shortly afterwards our team was on its ways to the camp. The 40 minutes drive was made difficult by thick snowdrifts.

Even from afar, I saw some refugees sitting outside in the sleet storm covered only by blankets upon our arrival. It was dark, already 10 pm and the light was sparse. I called into one of the dark and cold tents. A father came outside and told us that the military had given him enough blankets to wrap up his five children. He explained that the children were sleeping even so their feet were still cold. We made sure as best as possible that nobody suffered too seriously from the cold.

But then we were properly scared once more when we pulled a refugee out of a tent: he had lightened an open fire inside. So maybe we rescued him from a burning or a carbon monoxide poisoning. The day after our nocturnal inspection we decided to improve this deplorable state of affairs, which was already known for months. Our coordinator gave everything to get the ball rolling. It didn´t take too long to find warm sleeping backs for the children and to achieve the distribution of another warm meal a day after I had written to the military to give medical reasons for the need of an additional meal.

My second place of work was a bigger refugee camp at Sinatex, which housed about 250 Syrian and Kurdish persons. Closely packed, the tents were initially set up on the bare ground of a former unheated factory building. Between the tents were seemingly endless washing lines covered with jaded children´s clothes. I had to fight back my tears when I saw these humble belongings for the first time appearing in the morning dawn.

In spite of all this, I was happy that at this camp I had the luxury of treating my many patients, especially the little ones, in a heated container. During my daily consulting hours it felt like being at Piccadilly Circus. There was always something going on and some patients visited several times a day. Soon it became clear that the majority of the treated diseases like upper respiratory symptoms, intestinal infections or aliments of the skin and the muscular system had also psychosomatic causes. I could only start to imagine the terrors of violence and death many of my little patients had had to live through when I looked into their scared eyes. I tried to reach their hearts with small gifts like balloons or bonbons, with jokes and a friendly smile as well as heartfelt hugs und silent prayers to strengthen their self-protection.

Since the refugees at Sinatex were registered, I could organise hospital consultations for some of the more serious cases. In particular I advocated for the in-patient evaluation of a new-born with hepatitis, which had become very dear to me. His mother proudly told me that he should be named after his uncle, who had been abducted five years ago at the age of 19 by the IS in Syria. When I was back in Germany, I was very glad to hear the baby could be released healthy from hospital.

Our team spent 24 hours a day together. Like in a family we not only ate, but also spent our leisure time together. Furthermore we met for regular meetings in the evening to prepare statistics and to replenish our stocks of drugs, diapers, baby food as well as of hygiene articles and clothing.

Small steps into the right direction: in Vagiohori all tents have been provided with furnaces. Photo: humedica

Shortly before returning home to Germany I was glad to see that some of the above quoted “dikes of courage” took already form. In Vagiohori the military has begun to dig wells for electric lines in between the tents, to put up small furnaces with closed exhausts in the tents and to take measurements for planned stable accommodations. At the Sinatex camp all tents outside the factory building have vanished since the cold spell and inside the unheated hall wooden racks have gradually replaced the thin tent tarpaulins.

While doing meaningful work in my international team I had much time to think about the subject of refugee moving. I have experienced hands on that this movement is made up of innumerable individual fates. I have learnt that even the smallest commitment out of charity means an enormous step towards a life in freedom and can give new impetus to a bigger movement. You need courage to take these steps, but it is worth it. After all, everyone has the right to live in freedom and without fear.“

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