SCM Medical Missions


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Humanitarian AidRefugeesUncategorized

Lesbos Update

29 February 2016 | Dr. Bill Dienst

I landed here on the Northern shore of the Greek Island of Lesvos on 26 February. Lesvos is the third largest of the Greek Islands, and is the closest to the Turkish coast, separated on its Northern Coast by only 6 miles (10 km). For this reason, it has been the main crossing point for refugees.

It has been very quiet since I came here 3 days ago in terms of refugee boat arrivals on the Northern Coast. The current political situation of the Turkish Government, the Greek Government, the European Union and NATO is an elaborate dance of Cat-and-Mouse with the human smugglers and refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations.

The refugees are intermittently stranded on the Turkish Side. Their goal is to land in Greece, thereby entering the European Union, then making their way to the Greek mainland. From there, they try to travel overland through Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Austria to Germany and other locations in Northern Europe.

There are bottlenecks and various hardships along the way, (e.g. Macedonia just started building a fence). There is a lot of uncertainty: hurry up, then wait, then hurry up again. For us rescuers, there is a need for flexibility and improvisation. During the past few months, there have been periods of working too hard, and then periods of hardly working. We are currently experiencing the latter, which gives me opportunity to write about this overall situation.

The goals of the Powers That Be are convoluted and confused: on the one hand they are trying their best to come to grips compassionately with the humanitarian catastrophe that endless wars have created in the host countries from whence the current refugees are fleeing. On the other hand, they must deal with the chaos and personal consequences experienced by their own citizens from their host countries, whose lives and economic well being are also being affected.

Here on Lesvos, the economy is based largely on agriculture, fishing and tourism. The tourist season usually starts in the late spring, and lasts through September. The effects of the current refugee crisis have been tumultuous on the local economy. There have been both winners and losers, but the current overall perception among the local Greeks is that the overall effect on the economy will be a loss. Bookings for this summer?s upcoming tourist season are down 80%. Tourists do not seem to want their restful summer escape from their hectic lives in the North of Europe to be interrupted by dead refugees washing ashore on the beach.

On the plus side, hotels and restaurants, usually moribund during the winter months, are currently fairly active, as they are being utilized by humanitarians and health care workers currently here to help the refugees. But these humanitarians do not spend their money as freely as the tourists. Some of the younger ones have been known to misbehave at times as well.

The refugees began arriving in large numbers this past October. Since then, various Non-Government-Organizations have arrived and infrastructures have evolved to provide services to refugees arriving from Turkey. They are based on the Northern and Eastern coasts of Lesvos. These have included the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders, and many others.

Here in the Northern shore of Lesvos, we are divided into 4 zones of responsibility. I will be working in Zone 1 with a Seattle based NGO called Salaam Cultural Museum (SCM). We are comprised of both health care workers and humanitarians. Our members arrive for a week or longer assignments. I have decided to stay here for 2 and a half months.

Our health care workers are aligned with a Norwegian group of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT?s and Paramedics) known as Medics Bergen. Our mission is largely pre-hospital care, triage and acute/urgent care. We receive refugees at local docks, where they have usually been rescued at sea by the Greek Coast Guard or Frontex, the Border Control service of the European Union.

There is an Italian group called Group Mission, who are currently in negotiations with the Greek government, so that they can deploy a mobile Intensive Care Unit. This would be helpful, as there are currently no hospital services on this end of the Island. There is only a clinic staffed part time by one Greek general practitioner a few days a week about 10 kilometers away in the town called Petra. The nearest hospital is a one and a half hour drive away in Mytilene, the capital city of Lesvos. Medecin Sans Frontieres has 2 ambulance services in our area if we have unstable patients who need transport to the hospital.

In my next article, I will try to explain how the local system of receiving refugees on shore works.

Dr. Bill Dienst is a rural family and emergency room physician from North Central Washington. He has extensive experience in medical exchange programs in Veracruz, Mexico and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He is currently on assignment in Lesvos, Greece


SCM in Urgent Need of Medical Volunteers

10410675_10102508414264519_7488877610344866048_nWe are in urgent need of medical volunteers for our missions to Lesbos, Greece for the following missions:

  • January 16 – 24, 2016
  • February 6 – 14, 2016
  • February 13 – 21, 2016
  • February 27 – March 6, 2016

We have extended our missions through the end of March, at least, and continue to evaluate our effectiveness and whether or not to continue beyond that on a regular basis. If you are interested in volunteering, please visit our Missions Dates and Registration page for more information and to download the registration forms.

We need humanitarian and medical volunteers on the other dates in March, but our most urgent need is to cover February. If you aren’t able to volunteer but still want to help, you can donate to our Greece Mission fund which will help cover the costs of our operations there as well as buy supplies for the refugees.



My last few days on Lesvos

One last post from our volunteer Raafia G. Thank you for sharing your experience and photos!


My last few days on Lesvos have been even more overwhelming than the firsts. I’ve learned that for most, it doesn’t get any easier any step of the way. It’s made me really think about how horrible their lives must have been in their homeland to pick up everything they ever knew, some leaving their families behind, to come start over enduring physical and emotional pain and anxiety every step of the way. There have been several children sent with their aunts and uncles or relatives in hopes of a better life. I’ve seen families both caring for relatives’ children like they are their own, but also those who have abandoned and robbed them. I’ve seen children who have witnessed their parents being taken or killed in front of their eyes. I have heard stories that boats were trying to be drowned. I have seen wounds and bruising that have made them want to escape so badly that don’t even care if they stay in Greece forever.


Children waiting for the bus to Oxy Camp.

Every story pains my heart and I feel lucky I have had the opportunity to meet some of the refugees and hear their stories. I’ve met doctors, lawyers, teachers, regular people just like me and you. I have learned a lot from them, about how little one needs to really survive and be content and what really is important in life.

They have taught me the power of prayer. Some of them, especially the elderly come off boats soaking wet and freezing, but praying and thanking God for protecting them and their family and keeping them alive. They have taught me that faith, family, freedom, food, and shelter are basic human rights and all one really needs.

I have learned that children are very resilient. I will never forget the children I have met, the smiles on their faces, and their laughter as I’ve played with them. I will never forget the faces of the children I had to ration food with and turn away. I will never forget the feeling of hope they have as they arrive from Turkey.

The faces of helpless exhausted families who have been robbed or beaten will forever stay with me. I pray that they all will be taken care of and that they make it to their final destination easily and safely. I have seen prayers answered and the joy of families’ faces when their registration is complete and they are allowed to leave to their next destination. I hope they find peace and happiness in their new life.


Life vest hill. About every week they get buried and then thousands more re-collect. Hard to believe every one represents a person.

Although my time here is over, I am already trying to plan my return. There is so much to be done and so much help is needed.

I’d like to thank all of the volunteers across the world that really have been working for humanity. People putting their lives on hold for weeks and months, people quitting their jobs and selling their homes to help this cause. It has truly been a beautiful experience with wonderful selfless people. I will never forget the friends I have made and the bonds that were created in the most vulnerable times. My team has been remarkable and has done great things that the most critical times. I’d like to thank my big sister Rayesa, the best travel buddy I could have asked for, and without whom my experience wouldn’t have been the same. Thanks for taking care of me, for being the mom of the team, and being my sanity through it all.

Peace out Lesvos. Until next time…


Some of the children helped to distribute food at Moria camp.

Humanitarian AidRefugeesSyriaUncategorized

Greece Missions Extended

A quick update to let everyone know that our missions to the Greek island of Lesvos will continue through January 17th. Please contact Brenda@salaamculturalmuseum.org in the office for more information. You can also download our registration forms on our Dates and Registration page.

We are in particular need of doctors and first responders. The boats are still coming, people still need our help.


From Career Woman To Refugee

GLOBAL EXCLUSIVE: From Career Woman To Refugee – The 1,500 Mile Journey Of One Syrian Mother

Corinne Redfern 13:36 | 03 Dec 2015

What drives a woman to leave her home and country in the dead of night and become a refugee? Corinne Redfern travelled from Greece to Germany with pregnant Aysha and her two young children to find out why she left Syria – and what the future holds for her.
syrian mother
‘I DON’T LIKE TO THINK OF MYSELF AS A REFUGEE. I used to live in a lovely part of Aleppo, and I spent my twenties studying human research, travelling the country and working as a civil engineer for the government. I met my husband six years ago, when I was 34. He was a doctor, but I remember being introduced to him and not being that fussed. He, on the other hand, pretty much immediately asked to marry me. Eventually I gave in – I think I knew inside he was The One. From then on, we were inseparable. Our house was old and beautiful, with huge, high ceilings, white walls and tiled floors. We spent our days at work and our evenings with friends – eating out, listening to music… being normal.

To continue to the full article, click here.