For the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) trip in November, photographers documented each day of the mission. At the SAMS Mental Health Center in Anjar, one young speech therapy patient had a special interest in the photographer’s camera. For Mazen, the camera was not just a tool, it represented his best friend.
The boy used to take phone pictures for his family every day. Mazen’s interest in medicine and fascination with photography was captured in images, as were the faces and situations of others. Those snapshots recorded very special moments in time, not epic events but slices of everyday life that individually and combined as a collection show the volume and weight of the health care difficulties faced by Syrian refugees.
“I want everyone that sees these pictures to make an effort to be part of the solution to this tragedy, in whatever capacity they can,” said Dr. Najeeb. “Try and help, whether financially or by physically going there. The photos do not show the emotional and psychological toll on the refugees, nor the scope of people from all over the world who are coming to assist them. But they do offer a look at the situation that most people never have the opportunity to see.”
A selection of those photos are published here, along with observations from Dr. Najeeb, a SAMS volunteer from Wisconsin and specialist in internal medicine, pulmonology, intensive care, and sleep medicine.
“The refugees are doing the best they can to adapt to circumstances beyond their control by drawing on their strong faith. They showed such a high degree of appreciation to anyone that provided assistance to them. There was not the sense of entitlement that I sometimes see among refugees, they tried to not be a burden to the volunteers.” – Dr. Najeeb
“We went to Lebanon with a vision of helping and making a big impact, but we quickly became overwhelmed when we saw the enormous need. Seeing the magnitude of need in every aspect of their life made us feel so inadequate in whatever we were able to help with.” – Dr. Najeeb
“Our team saw almost 1,000 patients in the 8 days that we were there. The clinic closed at 5:00 pm each day, to allow us to travel the 1.5 hours back to our hotel. But I would have 18-20 patients still waiting, sometimes they stood in pouring rain for hours because there was no cover. Some of the clinics had no room to shelter people except the patients we were seeing and the medical staff. I refused to leave, although it delayed the drivers and those traveling with me, but I could not ask these families that had walked long distances to go home and come back the next day. So most days I would finish at 8:30 or 9:00 pm. Our inconvenience was minor compared to what they were going through.” – Dr. Najeeb
“The Medical volunteers all had a tremendous amount of experience between them, so we had the opportunity to discuss cases and strategies to make the clinics more effective. Many times when people give donations to causes, they don’t have the opportunity to see how those funds are spent. I was pleased to see the funds raised in Milwaukee put to use, and I was happy with how SAMS ran their clinics. All of the volunteers paid for their own airfare and hotel stays.” – Dr. Najeeb
“After coming back to the hotel, we were given the opportunity to relax and go sightseeing in the large and beautiful cosmopolitan city of Beirut. But I could not mix such tragedy with any pleasure. I spent the time reviewing some of the unusual cases that we saw. Emotionally it was very difficult, I gained as much from these patients as they gained, they taught me the real meaning of gratefulness.” – Dr. Najeeb
“Many times as I was taking a patient’s history and listening to the immense suffering they endured trying to escape the violence in Syria, or dealing with lack of medical care or lack of money for basic necessities, I felt emotionally exhausted. I don’t know a single physician, nurse or therapist that went with us that did not spend the ride back to the hotel in silence or quietly crying. Many would not show up for dinner because they were emotionally exhausted from the experiences of the day and needed to make sense of all this man-made tragedy.” – Dr. Najeeb
WMJ Series: Medical Mission to Lebanon
- Wisconsin doctors join medical volunteers treating Syrian refugees in Lebanon
- Attacks on health care in Syria add to ongoing social devastation
- After surviving the civil war, Syrian refugees suffer devastating trauma
- Photo Essay: SAMS volunteers bring urgent medical services to war weary
- Video from Lebanon: Wisconsin doctors share their experience helping refugees
- Volunteer medical services provide Syrian refugees with needed chronic care