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Tag: Humanitarian aid


Greece Mission Update 12/1/2015


Hi all,

We we worked a big boat this morning that may have been overloaded with as many as 250 Kurds. You can see the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTxYwLGl1Y0

Later, while we were at Lighthouse beach, we saw the big Greek navy ship go by. With binoculars we could see refugees on the aft deck. We raced off for the harbor only to find they were heading for the customs dock down the coast, so we raced over there. We got there just before the ship did and were able to help the Afghans.

We briefly helped back at the harbor after dinner with a small group.

It is clear that the agreement with Turkey is not going to stop the flow for some time though it has slowed considerably. The Turks will have to make life awfully enticing to make the refugees want to stay. How much can 3 billion  for 2.2 million refugees do?

We stopped by Oxy camp before returning to the hotel but nothing was happening there. Basel was then off to pick up Sharif at the airport.



Greece Mission Update 11/29/2015

This is an update sent to us by one of our Greece mission volunteers. His next post will be posted immediately after this, with photos taken just yesterday.



Hi all,

Lively day today with lots of boats. It was the first time that the new team was all together. The first boat that we met was along the road to Scala. The weather was beautiful but the refugees came ashore wet and shivering.

We then went farther down the road where other boats were arriving but there were plenty of volunteers there. As we were about  turn around and head to the harbor, our Greek lifeguard friends shouted, “Stop that car!” A small pickup was leaving the scene and we gave chase. It was some locals who had stolen a refugee’s backpack. We overtook and stopped them and the lifeguards gave them a tongue lashing.

The bulk of our day was spent working two groups brought to the harbor by the Coast Guard. Their boats were taking  water so of course they were soaked. One guy had been in the water alone for over an hour and was found by chance.

The end of the day was spent with a shift at Oxy camp but Nick and Olivia just saw a couple of kids there with Tarek translating. We filled the time until the end of the shift sorting meds.

Regardless of the agreement with Turkey we don’t expect things to quiet down…

That’s all for now


GreeceHumanitarian AidMedical AidRefugees

Diary Entries from Lesvos – October 10th-18th

Dear All,IMG_8388
Please see below for our daily escapades.
Best Wishes & Salaam,

Day 1

Today we received a full handover from Hina, Sabrina, Basel, and Daoud. Hina and Sabrina informed us of their current set up which largely involved slotting into the medical tent of Waha. They used only their own supplies and it seems the medical problems continue to be simple ailments.

In the evening as we were heading towards dinner we passed Eftalu beach where suddenly in the darkness a boat of refugees landed. We helped them off the boat ensuring children and babies were taken first. Our Arabic speakers continuously welcomed everyone and relayed instructions while the rest of the medical and humanitarian volunteers assessed how wet people were and wrapped them in blankets. From the medical point of view we were largely observing our predecessors. Quick assessments and triages were carried out to rule out any injuries or serious medical problems.

Food and water were distributed. Teams to transport the refugees were alerted.

Day 2

Today was a quiet day due to the stormy weather across the island. Very few boats have come across.

The team split into two today. Two people remained behind to organise and pack our supplies, hygiene packs, and emergency blankets. Three people visited the Oxy camp today to introduce ourselves to the Waha team and camp coordinators. Due to the low footfall at the camp that day, the medical camps, food stall, and registration tents were functioning well and did not require any further help, so we helped clean up the road outside the camp.

New ImageWe picked up all the garbage from the street and sidewalk. We collected all the reusable items such as discarded blankets, clothes, shoes, and sleeping bags. We can confirm that all of these will be washed and reused as per the usual set up of Oxy camp. During this time several of the Syrian refugees, total 6 men, asked if they could help us. We gave them gloves and our team grew to 9 people. Together we were able to transform the appearance of the streets outside Oxy camp. The Greek police stopped and thanked us four times for our efforts.

As our group has now grown it is no longer feasible to keep slotting into the medical tents run by other NGOs. We have supplies and donations that can help people better. We have decided to arrange ourselves into a mobile clinic in collaboration with a group of independent Swiss volunteers. We will provide the medical expertise, medicines, and translators. They will augment our team by designing and providing us with two mobile tents that can be assembled and dismantled within 15 minutes.

Two boats arrived overnight despite the storm.

Day 3

Today we attended the local volunteer meeting at the Starfish Group headquarters by the harbour. We identified several problems with our current set up that required discussions with other coordinators.

As two of us will be remaining in Lesvos, Zoya from UK (me!), has been added as a contact with the Starfish group. This is a network of independent volunteers that is headed by foreign nationals who have been residing in Lesvos for many years. They understand the system, geography, and local politics. It is important that every SCM team come and introduce themselves to Melinda/Tracey and get added on to the whatsapp group run by them. With this you receive live updates with requests for equipment or medical assistance. IMG_8386

We have made it clear to the other NGO and other independent volunteers that we are a team of doctors available to be deployed for emergencies. Calls started coming in immediately!

The entire SCM team then scrambled to Eftalou after reports of several boats landing. We aided two boats ashore. These were not the normal black rubber boats that contain 40-50 people. They were now two tier boats with at least 70-150 passengers on board.

Our team was in the water helping the refugees disembark, taking babies and children first followed by women, luggage, and finally men.

There are often heavily pregnant women or those with newborns among the travelers. We identified a 5-day-old baby who had been discharged from the hospital just one day before having received a blood transfusion in Turkey. They were not feeding well and it was important this baby had repeat blood tests. We transported the family to the local hospital.

In the evening we sent one doctor out on an emergency call for a patient coughing up blood and stranded inland. On arrival our team found that the patient was having multiple seizures and was in fact a known epileptic who had likely lost his medication on his journey as a refugee. There was little we could do medically except keep him stable and transport him to the urgent care facility in Kaloni in our vehicle. He was nearly status epilepticus and this rapid transport was likely to be life-saving.

Day 4 – Harbour Day

Today was an extremely difficult day. Our team was asked to help out at the harbour. This is where the Greek Coast Guard brings in boats that have capsized. The refugees have been in the water sometimes for several hours. They are extremely traumatised from the fear of drowning or the death of their family members. Those brought into the harbour are given medical and humanitarian care before they are placed under arrest and taken to Mytiline directly for registration.

When we arrived, the coast guard had brought in about 17 people. They were hysterical. One man and his daughter were inconsolable. He had lost his wife and she had lost her mother. She could not have been older than 9 years old and was screaming “mama, mama.” Her name was Hiba. She fainted. A simple vasovagal syncope. Her father could not stop crying. Another man required stitching on his hand. Another on his face.

One gentlemen was extremely upset as he could not find his daughter. He had his son, but his daughter was nowhere to be seen. As they calmed down they began to tell their story: There was an accident. The Greek Coast Guard ship had hit their boat with great force. It sliced through the entire boat and many were dead on impact. There were others on the boat and every time a motor could be heard everyone waited with hope and anguish, praying that their loved ones were found and brought back to them.

In the meantime we got them out of their wet clothes and tried to feed them. Everyone was refusing food and water except for the kids.

Then it happened. The second group of people from the same boat were found and docked at the port. A mother ran down the harbour, looked at the first group of people, and began screaming and wailing. She did not stop. Her husband ran into the crowd and was searching frantically. They came with 4 children. Only one survived. “Why did they kill my children? Why?” Her name was Nadya. Nadya went between fainting and screaming constantly for the next 1.5 hrs. She would not let us dry her off. She just sat down on the harbour, soaking wet, and mourned her 3 dead children. Eventually we had to buy some diazepam from the pharmacy up the road and sedate her. It was the only way to get her calm enough to transport her. Her husband asked where the morgue was before they left.

Hiba and her father also began crying again. As the second boat unloaded it was confirmed, their mother was gone and her two siblings were found. I cradled Hiba in my arms for a long time, giving her kisses on the cheeks. When I would stop she would draw me closer to her again. Lemah and Zakia sit with Nadya in across their laps, crying with her, consoling her, and trying to get a few sips of water past her lips.

Cultural awareness is also very important. There were many European volunteers, play therapists, and psychiatrists on hand who were trying to distract the children with games. Others tried to offer Nadya a cigarette to calm her down. They were also very disturbed when they witnessed Nadya hitting her chest and head. Finally we intervened and told the European volunteers that these are normal ways of expressing grief in the Middle East and the kids are old enough to understand death. They are aware that their mothers and siblings and have just passed away in the sea. They must let the children be with their families and stop trying to get them to play right now.

It was a day that all of us cried. It was heartbreaking and it was the reason why we are here.

Day 5

First thing in the morning, we see a boat driving past our hotel heading straight for an area of the shore that is largely inaccessible by main road, so we grab our equipment and head out. We manage to park the car along a dirt track, jump a fence, and cross a field to reach them. IMG_8385

A man was immediately brought to our attention. He was disabled with extreme muscle wasting and was in severe pain. He was pale and tachycardiac. His relatives showed us some photos of him and we realised he had a large decubitus ulcer. Further examination revealed he had a colostomy and urostomy in situ which were likely sources of contamination. I imagine they had not been changed for several weeks along his journey and he was suffering from septic shock.

We used a piece of the rubber boat as a stretcher and rolled him onto that. We then carried him to the van and transported him to the main hospital in Mytiline. This transport was most definitely life-saving. Our Swisscross friends visited him in the hospital the next day and we were all so relieved to find out he was in full recovery with IV antibiotics and some TLC.

During the evening we went out to the Skala Sykamina region. Along this stretch of coast are several landing points, one large transit camp and one smaller sized transit camp. They are further away and therefore less popular with the volunteers. They are being run totally on independent volunteers and donations. They are certainly stretched for resources compared to Oxy, both material and personnel.

On this night all camps, transit and larger, were well over capacity. The night was cold and windy and there was nowhere to transport the refugees. The safest place they could be was in the nearest transit camp along the shore. The boats kept coming, one after another. Another 60 people, another 120, another 150.

The cycle was the same: Pull them out, babies first; Calm them down; Help them to the road; Dry them off; and Direct them to food and water. Tonight emphasised the value of our Arabic speakers and was very much about crowd management. Without these skills, no one would have been reassured. Without them we could not have managed the chaos.

It took about 4 hours to handle both camps, to tell the crowds not to travel, that their safest place was here. “Find a place under a tree, bundle up, and let your children sleep,” we kept repeating, “Stay off the road, don’t separate from your families.”

Stage 1 Skala transit camp was finally under control. We then headed up to the main camp and spent the rest of the evening distributing food, water, hygiene packs, diapers, and sanitary pads to the crowd.

When we left, everyone was calm, the night was quiet, and thousands upon thousands were sleeping under the leaves.

Day 6

Tonight was another busy night at Skala. The crowds were plentiful but we were experienced now. Communicate well; check in with the coordinators; direct people accurately; hand out supplies. Give it 2-3 hours and the boats will cease; ensure everyone has a patch of earth to sleep; then go home and collapse in our own beds.

On this night we found a pregnant woman who had begun her labour on Turkish land. She was unwell, dehydrated, and in pain. Our team and the Swisscross took her to the nearest clinic, Kalloni, where they were told that they were unable to care for her here. There is no delivery room and no OBGYNs. So we put her back in the car and took her to Mytiline. On arrival there was a tense stretch of time as the baby’s heartbeat was undetectable for 15 minutes. Lemah thought she would have to break the news to this young mother that her baby was dead. Fortunately, they found a weak heartbeat. The woman did not deliver that night but she was safe and well cared for. Our team described this as an emotional rollercoaster and Lemah was so well supported by Rahel, our Swisscross volunteer/veterinarian/makeshift nurse.

Within an hour was another patient. A man fitting and dropping his GCS to 4 in between his seizures was identified. At this point Aleem decided that the patient must be transported to a medical facility. We agreed that we are ultimately a medical mission and we must trust in the decisions of our medically trained doctors. Before transporting patients, however, we must ensure we have obtained the authority to do so by the Greek Police. Once we have informed them and provided our license plates we are permitted to continue.

This is an important point to clarify as we want to keep our staff as safe as our patients.

Day 7

This was a calm day. There was a steady stream of small number boats coming in throughout the day. They were medically healthy, provided with water and given directions to the nearest camp.

There is a world of difference between the boats that arrive in the day compared to the night. Those in the day are much calmer because of the improved visibility. They are less frightened and they dry off quickly. They are also able to walk to the transit points, freeing up our buses for more urgent need.

Day 8

Goodbyes, airport drop offs, and a quick stop to check out Kara Tepe, another transit camp.

Humanitarian AidJordanRefugees

Salaam Cultural Museum assists Syrian refugees

By Jordan Schneider

There are 6.3 million displaced refugees in Syria, 1.3 million live in Jordan. Not all Syrian refugees within Jordan live in official refugee camps; nevertheless, living in Jordan and not in a camp means 20 to an apartment. These are urban refugees. Other refugees not in official camps have built their own camps near farming communities and work for one dollar a day harvesting fruit and vegetables.

Based out of Seattle, Washington, Salaam Cultural Museum is an all-volunteer organization that operates in Jordan as a registered NGO. With the exception of one paid office assistant no one draws a salary—not even those in the administration. For Ramadan, Rita Zawaideh, founder of Salaam, made a deal with one of the local Jordanian grocery stores;

To continue reading click here to go to the full article.

Humanitarian AidJordan

A Lasting Impression: My Time in Jordan with SCM

By Rasha Abousalem

There comes a time in your life when you just know that things will change. That time for me was back in February 2014 when I decided to go on a 3 week long humanitarian trip to assist and interview Syrian refugees throughout Jordan. During the early stages of organizing my trip, I had read about Salaam Cultural Museum online and decided to contact them to get some more information about their work in Jordan. Unfortunately at that time, I was unable to join SCM on their May trip, as I had plans to be at another location in Jordan. By almost the second week of June I received an email from SCM inquiring if I would still be in Jordan during the June trip and if I would be interested in providing translation services for the medical group they were working with, Global First Responder. It seemed like a random chance they had emailed me, as I was set to leave Jordan for several days at that time, but this time I rescheduled my leave and jumped at the chance to take part in SCM’s mission.

Unlike the majority of SCM and GFR members, whom were staying at a hotel in Amman, I was staying with my only relative in the country and on the first day had to meet them by taking a taxi to an unofficial refugee camp in Sahaab. It felt quite awkward to show up to sandy lot sprawled out with tents, as children, some barefoot and covered with dirt, looked at me from the distance, wondering who I was. I was caught off guard, not only by the realization that these people standing before me had witnessed horrors that nightmares are made of, but that I, a person with a degree in human rights and refugees and who had studied case after case of wars and genocides, felt my stomach drop. As soon as I walked out of that taxi and saw the emptiness in those children’s eyes, my chest tightened and my heart sank to a low I’ve never felt before.

Arriving at Sahaab Camp

Arriving at Sahaab Camp

I felt disappointed in myself. I thought I was mentally and emotionally ready to deal with what I was about to see, and for a moment I stood there trying to figure out what it was that was bothering me so much. Maybe it was because they were just children, and they were supposed to be laughing and running, not from bombs or bullets, but from friends chasing them. Maybe it was because I knew that I had a shower and warm bed to go back to, or that eventually I’ll make my way back home to the US, where my biggest fear is getting a speeding ticket and not being shot by a sniper. Maybe it was because I felt a closeness that most of the volunteers couldn’t understand, in that I too was Arab, and like these refugees my family too suffered from wars and are refugees as well. Somehow this entire moment lasted only about 30 seconds before I snapped myself out of it and continued towards the tent to finally meet Rita face-to-face for the first time.

I was happy to finally meet someone, as I did not know anyone there- not from SCM or GFR. The first thing I noticed about Rita was what a hard worker she was. It was so important for her to make sure that everything was running smoothly, or as smoothly as possible considering our location. She pointed me over to the tent where I would be spending the majority of my day. As I made my way over I could hear some of the refugees wondering if I was a reporter, due to my camera hanging around my neck. Some were concerned about the pictures I might take, while the children were excited at the prospect of having their picture taken. I couldn’t help but chuckle on the inside, as none of the refugees knew I was of Arab descent and were unaware that I could understand what they were saying. My guilty pleasure was the surprise, sometimes shock in their eyes when I would greet them with “Salaamu Alaikum” or “Marhaba” and start speaking to them fluently in Arabic. Asides from that being a good ice breaker, it was my biggest tool in creating a necessary connection with these people and building trust, even if it were the amount of a grain of salt.

10593084_826279994071071_2468374360192705344_nI was pointed to the direction of a tent towards my left, and as I am walking to it I come across a woman watering some plants in a little garden. I walk up to her and offered my greetings, and asked her if she had planted those herself, to which she replied, “Yes, but some people thinks it’s a waste of time and that I’m silly for planting them because they probably won’t last.” I asked her what her opinion was about it being considered silly by others. She then said something that I will never forget- “I do it anyways because it brings a smile to my face. We all need to smile.”

As I turned around and continued making my way to the tent I was designated to, I came across three young girls between the ages of 9-11 yrs old. They were curious about me and where I was coming from and of course my camera. Young girls that had seen enough in the last year than most of us will ever see in our entire lifetime. One of my favorite pictures from this trip was the one I took of them before I ended our conversation.

10411966_10100431844622258_8680772688241763950_nI finally make my way into the tent where I immediately take my place next to GFR members Dr. Adam Beckett (founder) and Rick Baker. I hadn’t even been sitting for one minute when a young girl, around the age of six, enthusiastically climbed into my lap. I loved it, but at the same time it showed how much these kids were seeking attention and affection, especially the younger ones, whereas the older children, although still curious, were more cautious and independent. Her smile lighted up the dim tent. She was lightly covered in dirt and desperately needed a bath, and I wondered how long it’s been since her last shower. Yet she smiled as if nothing in the world mattered but that moment.

As the hours went by, I translated for Rick, hoping that I was doing my job right. I do not have any official medical training and was concerned that I might not translate correctly, but those fears quickly subsided with each passing patient. We encountered many with skin and/or gastrointestinal issues, which are extremely contagious in settings such as refugee camps where hygiene struggles to be a top priority. In Syria, prior to the war, medical services had come at no cost to the people. There were many practicing doctors and medical facilities that catered to various medical issues. Since the onset of the war, many of the refugees we encountered had not seen a doctor or received any type of medical attention for years. It was vital that SCM and GFR provide such services to those refugees.

GFR members Dr. Adam Beckett (L) and Rick Baker (R) inside a tent providing medical care to refugees

GFR members Dr. Adam Beckett (L) and Rick Baker (R) inside a tent providing medical care to refugees

After hours of sitting on the floor, we decided to take a short break, which served as a great opportunity for me to do some photography and speak to some of the refugees. As I went out into the sunlight and the heat of a summer day in Jordan, I saw a man pull up in an old pickup. Out came an older gentleman with a bag in his hand. A crowd of children and women began to form around him, as their voices grew louder and impatience seemed to spread. The best shots I can get would be on the back of the pickup, so I climbed up the old tire and took a stand on the edge. The old man opened up the bag and exposed a box of lollipops- colorful, basic lollipops. Something we take for granted everyday for sure, but to these refugees, especially the children, this was beyond a treat, but rather a feast that will probably not repeat itself for many months later. As soon as he opened the box, it was as if a bell in a race rang and all the children went crazy for that candy. Arms raised high as if begging, even just for the chance to touch the sugary goodness. The poor man was almost trampled on, but that wasn’t what really caught my attention. It was the desperation in these children’s eyes, all for colored sugar. They had to have it.

10441377_826280307404373_7654452050056687437_n1908404_826280310737706_7218538666713103181_n1901232_826280384071032_5211597186030776017_nAs soon as the little riot died down, the man went into his truck and retrieved a book and bags of freshly baked pita bread. He informed me that he keeps tabs on which refugee family gets what, and that every single refugee receives bread at one point or another. Watching these men, women, and children walk away with an armful of bread offered a relief, even if just for a moment, knowing that tonight and tomorrow night they will have something to eat.

10403239_827279433971127_2058613971604193371_nI jumped down from the truck and made my way around the camp, making sure to give my greetings to those around, hoping that it will relieve their curiosity about me and make me more approachable. Surely enough, it did. A woman was inside a tent, surrounded by crates of semi-rotten tomatoes, potatoes, and other vegetables and one single gas canister with a cooktop. I asked her if this is where families came to cook their food, to which she replied yes. I also discovered each family cooks for themselves. I asked her what was the last thing her family had to eat, and in a saddened voice veiled by calm tone, she replied, “Potatoes.” I knew she was lucky compared to those who had gone days without eating. And as I backed out of the tent and gave my salutation, she asked me if I would join her family for dinner. Me, add another mouth to feed to their family, thus causing the others to eat less so that I can be provided with their food? Although I was not surprised at her offer and manners, I was taken back that even in such a state she was still thinking about others. I thanked her repeatedly for the offer but informed her that I must be on my way.


I continued my way around the camp, greeting one family after another and declining one lunch invitation after another. I returned to the camp and continued translating for Rick and whoever else needed my services. As the day dragged on, some of the elders would come and offer us tea with mint, a traditional way of Arabs to serve their teas. Naturally, I loved it and I was pleasantly surprised to see the non-Arabs of the group love it as well. The day began to wind down and we started clearing out the tents of our supplies.

SCM/GFR registration area

SCM/GFR registration area

As I made my way back into Amman, I closed my eyes in an attempt to clear out my head. I hadn’t seen anything graphic, such as bodies wrecked by shrapnel or arms blown off by barrel bombs, but rather I  desperation and fear in their eyes. I heard hope, yet sorrow in their voices. I felt love in the embrace of a barefoot child covered in dirt. I wanted to do so much more than just translate. I wanted to reassure them that people cared, and that everything will be alright. But would it? How can I convince them of that after everything they have seen? These people have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their loved ones. Their families have been torn apart not by bombs, but by the pride and greed of men. How can they trust us now?


That trust was there, as I later discovered in my next several days working with Salaam Cultural Museum. They have built trust with the refugees at the sites and centers they visit. It takes not just dedication, but love to drive hours throughout Jordan helping those refugees in need. SCM gave me and GFR the amazing opportunity to not only interact, but to connect with these refugees, whether it be at a camp in the middle of a sandy lot or a center built to provide therapy for children suffering from PTSD. And if that wasn’t enough, through SCM I also formed life-long friendships with the other volunteers, and in one particular situation, something even more special:



Here, I am translating for another volunteer about proper dental hygiene

Here, I am translating for another volunteer about proper dental hygiene


Dr. Beckett listening for any lung or heart irregularities

Dr. Beckett listening for any lung or heart irregularities

Rita handing out baby items, i.e., baby formula

Rita handing out baby items, i.e., baby formula

AL Hurra Interview about SCM

Here is a video of an interview done on an Arabic language station about SCM. They came to our office and talked with Rita about the work we are doing to help the refugees.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBx-mxB18WE]