05Oct2022

SCM Medical Missions

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Seattle WA 98103

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Tag: refugees

AfghanistanHumanitarian AidRefugees

Clothing Bank for Refugees

Our clothing store, or bank, that we had set up at another church in Renton has been moved to a new location that we will be able to use for the next two months. Thank you to all the volunteers who help make the move!

Our three main hero’s that made this happen – Kathy, Fareeda, and Pamela. They found the location, got volunteers and organized the setup. We had about 44 for the move and we started at 9:30am and had everything done by 2:30pm on moving day.

The new clothing bank will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 10-2 every week through January 2022. Refugees can come in to get clothing, hygiene supplies, and diapers.

We can always use vaccinated volunteers to help the families when they come to get supplies!

Location:

15255 SE Fairwood Blvd
Renton, WA 98058

Community ServiceHumanitarian AidJordanRefugeesSyria

What SCM Accomplished this Month

SCM has been very busy the last month! Thanks to your ongoing support we have been able to do a lot for the month of Ramadan including the following: Food distribution in Jordan, food distribution in Aleppo in partnership with three other organizations, distribution of Eid gifts to refugees in Jordan, distribution of humanitarian goods here and in Jordan, and Eid presents sent to Spokane, Tri-Cities, Tukwila for the refugees resettled there.

We also took the local refugee families to Woodland Park Zoo for the end of Ramadan celebration on Sunday. We are grateful for all the support and contributions we have received over the last month. Don’t forget, though, that the end of Ramadan does not signal the end of the need for food and aid to the Syrian refugees, and we must keep this going. We thank you for your dedication to this mission!

Greece

The Ebb and Flow of Confrontation and Suppression

Monday-Wednesday April 11-13
Idomeni and Polykastro, Greece
By Dr. Bill Dienst

On Monday, we experienced the aftermath of processing our own emotions, those which we had no time to digest while it was all happening on Sunday: the tear gas, the sound bombs, the rubber bullets, the stampeding people full of panic, and the adrenaline rush of it all. The morning after brings with it a hangover of somber moods, as we reflect on what it all means: the growing loss of any hope among the lingering refugees.

I have been through all these emotions before in Gaza.* First, an oddly euphoric feeling of being alive during all the excitement of being under attack, then melancholy; and then feeling depressed with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms later.

But we have no time for all that now. We must get out of bed, have breakfast and head back to the front at Idomeni. With some trepidation, we proceed with our mobile health van, and set up in our usual spot.

Monday turns out to be fairly routine. We are back to our usual old practice pattern of “Urgent Care, Light.” A lot of self limiting conditions, for which we can only provide symptomatic relief. A lot of chronic complex medical and social problems which we can do little about. There are also the few cases where antibiotics are indicated. We provide a few wound dressings for second degree burns from hot water and campfires.

It’s the usual stuff: seemingly boring, but showing the people that we still care for them, while they are feeling that most of the world has forgotten them and their current predicament. We practice the art of primary care medicine: First do no harm! Try your best not over-medicate those with emotional distress presenting with physical complaints, but try not to miss those few serious conditions that require our medical intervention either.

Tuesday is much like Monday. Our mobile clinic at Idomeni runs smoothly, and I end my day there with the usual collaboration meeting with Medecins Sans Frontieres, Medecins Du Monde and the heads from all the other smaller NGO’s like us, who are providing health care in the camps. We review our response to Mass Casualty Incidents, like the one that occurred on Sunday, and how we can collaborate better. We are trying to start a vaccination program, but are still awaiting a green light from the Greek government. There is a clinical report of a case of measles without lab confirmation. We fear preventable epidemics might break out.

Then when we least expect it, Wednesday turns out to be a much different day. When we arrive, refugees are again amassing at the fence, and a standoff with Macedonian troops on the other side is already underway. There are fewer protesters this time than there were on Sunday. A few tear gas canisters and sound grenades fly. But then from the West, we see a column of Greek riot police moving forward to the east, fully equipped with riot shields and billy clubs, creating a wedge between the refugee protesters and the fence, with the FYROM soldiers watching from the other side.

Greece and Macedonia (or FYROM, as the Greeks prefer to call it) have had their share of hostilities in the recent and distant past. But neither side is looking for an armed conflict. The economies of both countries are suffering, even before this refugee crisis began; the last thing either country needs right now is a war, provoked by this refugee crisis. This escalation could easily have happened last Sunday, especially when the FYROM helicopter weaved menacingly along the border. I am sure it was equipped with attack weapons, which could have been unleashed into the crowd below.

On Monday, the media was full of reports from the Greek government which were critical of how the FYROM government handled the situation. But nobody in either government wants any further escalation: the Greek riot forces are now advancing their wedge, to cleave the refugee forces away from the fence. People are stricken with billy clubs, and we start taking casualties at our mobile health van.

We get fewer tear gas injuries than on Sunday, but more lacerations courtesy of the Greek riot police: about 5 cases within just a few minutes. Fortunately we are equipped with staple guns, which are much quicker than using conventional sutures. We have no time to dilly-dally. We must work fast, because we don’t know when the deluge of patients will stop. First iodine to disinfect, then wash the wound with saline, then lidocaine injection, then staples: pop, pop, pop! Antibiotic ointment, sterile dressing, then out the door. Next patient please. We can’t worry about tetanus, for we have no tetanus vaccine available.

Over the following days, it appears that the spirit of the refugee people is being gradually and persistently worn down. More people are getting on buses and going to the relocation centers, which some call internment camps. I doubt we will see riots of the magnitude we saw Sunday and Wednesday again, but who knows for sure?

Greece

There are Lots of Rumours; Some of them are True

Dr. Bill Dienst

Sunday April 10th, Idomeni, Greece

It’s 8 am. I arrive at breakfast in our Hotel Maison, located 40 minutes South of the Greek-Macedonian border. There at the border, thousands of Syrian and other refugees remain stranded.

David Stanton, the EMT working for Medics Bergen tells me about rumours he has heard the night before: Large numbers of refugees are planning to breach the border today. I hear similar rumours from time to time, but nothing much has happened so far on my watch.

Two weeks ago, also on Sunday, there was a big standoff between the refugees, encouraged by Spanish and Italian solidarity activists. They faced off with the Greek Police in full riot gear on the railroad tracks, 100 meters from the fence. We had our trauma bags deployed, fully ready, but the situation eased off several hours later. As far as I know, no one was hurt. The activists went back to Italy and Spain the next day, and the refugees went back to their squalor and their tents. We went back to treating colds and sore throats. Several hundred refugees boarded buses and left Idomeni for “relocation centers,” while thousands others still remain here. People are becoming more stir crazy and reckless: Children walk aimlessly right in front of my car, and I must drive defensively in order not to hit them by mistake.

I head North to Eko Gas Station refugee camp and attend the weekly medical logistics meeting for our coalition of small NGO’s. My medical and humanitarian team goes directly to the medical warehouse in Polykastro to restock our mobile health van. We stock every morning to prepare first for our mid day clinic at Idomeni, and then our evening clinic back at Eko. While at the morning Eko meeting, I hear more substantial rumours: several hundred refugees left Eko at 6 am this morning and are presently walking 20 km to the border at Idomeni: They are going to try and cross. Many left with their belongings in tow, just in case they get a chance.

We finish our meeting at about 11 am; then I head North to join my colleagues to start our clinic in our usual spot in Area C at Idomeni. When I arrive, I see thousands of people, not at the usual spot of protest at the railroad tracks, but to the West: right smack dab up against the fence topped with Concertina Wire, and some are trying to cut their way through.

DSCN2080On the immediate opposite side of the fence are riot police and soldiers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Tanks with mounted machine guns and Armoured Personnel Vehicles (APV’s) are there too. Things escalate; rocks are thrown across the fence at the soldiers, and FYROM forces respond with tear gas and sound grenades.

As I approach our Mobile Health Van located 250 meters South of the fence, I see David the EMT stumbling back, extremely sweaty, clammy and coughing uncontrollably. He has been gassed. We douse him with water, and he starts to recover. Moments later, we start receiving dozens more who have received more intense gas exposures. We start shifting into Mass Casualty Incident mode.

As we get over our initial astonishment and emotional shock, we start to get a handle on the situation. We start triaging people based on intensity of symptoms and associated trauma, related directly to the melee. Chaos and Pandemonium dominate, and now we need exert crowd control measures. We instruct our translators to start shouting loudly in Arabic: “Family members only! All others who are not hurt need to back away!”

Some people have been struck with billy clubs or rubber bullets, but 90% are simply suffering from different levels of tear gas inhalation. A few are splinted for possible fractures and we call the Greek Ambulance for one suspected low back/pelvic fracture. We send some of our volunteers forward wearing masks and equipped with 1 liter water bottles with a hole punched into the middle of the cap, so they can quickly douse those gassed and mitigate the severity of their symptoms, thus reducing their need to be carried by others to our van. Most of these cases are self limiting. One man gets IM epinephrine as we are concerned about his impending respiratory collapse, and several with asthmatic reactions receive bronchodilator therapy.

DSCN2138The wind suddenly shifts to the South, and all of us medical volunteers are now being gassed too. We become wounded healers. Our van pulls back 100 meters further South through trampled wheat fields to try and escape the gas.

This immediately feels familiar to me: instant recall. A feeling one never forgets if you have been tear gassed before. The burning on your face, the intense watering and stinging of your eyes; the uncontrollable sneezing and coughing. The feeling that you are going to suffocate, and then it passes, just as long as you don’t die right away: 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, depending on the concentration of gas you received and any premorbid conditions you might have.

It has been 10 years since my previous and only other gassing. This one occurred in 2006 at the hands of Israeli Occupation Forces in the West Bank village of Bil’in. Those weekly gas attacks there continue to this day. They involve concertina wire fences too: built to steal valuable olive groves from Palestinian villages and incorporate them into Jewish-only settlements. The tools used there and here are the same: concussion grenades, tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and sometimes live ammunition. For me, that gas attack back then was much worse than this one; compounded by a concussion grenade that exploded right next to me, and left my ears ringing for hours.

The FYOM forces are now using rubber bullets and I am hoping it goes no further. We have previously seen a Greek helicopters, but now a FYROM military helicopter approaches, weaves in and out, then hovers menacingly over the border. I again start having quivering flashbacks, having seen American supplied Apache attack helicopters in Gaza before firing heavy shells over our heads from the sky and killing young men behind us. I am praying internally that it will not come to this.

I am sure leaders from both Greece and Macedonia do not want any further escalation either. The last thing either country needs right now is a war, given that the economies of both countries have been in the tank, even before this current refugee crisis.

We think the gas victims are waning; but they continue coming in waves. Gradually, the numbers keep getting smaller. It’s three o’clock: we pack up our van and head to Polykastro for lunch.

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 with Salaam Cultural Museum, a Seattle based nonprofit organization doing humanitarian and medical relief work with refugee populations in Lesbos and Idomeni, Greece.

Greece

Vincent’s Story

Dr. Bill Dienst April 12, 2016, Eko Gas Station near Polykastro, Greece

Vincent (not his real name) is a friend of mine: A 28 year old man from Syria with a warped sense of humor. He acts like a child because he never had a childhood. He volunteers every day with our mobile healthcare van serving as one of our Arabic-English translators.

He greets me every day, shouting and laughing “Kill Bill!” I must admit, I find this unnerving. He goes on and on about these Quentin Tarantino movies, which I have yet to see. He thinks they are fabulous! “Just like a cartoon!” he exclaims.

I am trying to use him to help me do patient interviews; the line of patients keeps getting longer and longer. I am trying to focus on patient care. Vincent keeps trying to tell jokes; many I find foul mouthed and disgusting. I won’t even try to repeat them here. The line keeps getting longer and I find myself getting frustrated. Frankly, I him obnoxious at this point. I am starting to resent that I am stuck with him.

Then something happens, which changes my initial impressions. Late at night as the clinic is winding down, a sick 9 month old dehydrated child presents, who has had continuous diarrhea for 8 days. This child needs to be hospitalized, and the closest hospital is in the Greek town of Kilkis, over 40 km away across farm fields in the dark.

The main problem facing us now is lack of transportation. This child is not sick enough to warrant an ambulance, which are hard to come by anyway. I also need an Arabic-English translator to help the Greek doctor at the hospital.

So I go with this child, his mother and Vincent in my small Hertz rental car all they way to Kilkis (population about 60 thousand); three Syrians and one American. None of us have ever been to Kilkis before. I am glad I have studied the Greek alphabet, so I can read road signs and not get too lost trying to get to the hospital.

I wince at the idea of having to listen to Vincent’s warped sense of humor all the way to Kilkis. I start by asking him what he thinks should be done to resolve the crisis in Syria. “Drop a huge nuclear bomb on the whole country!!” I ask him why? “Then all the people who are suffering and dying slowly will finally be put out of their misery!!”

Then a funny thing happens. A tormented soul emerges from his internal angst, stops all the sick jokes, and starts telling me his personal story.

Vincent was not born not in Syria, but in Iraq. This is because his grandfather was a political opponent of former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, the current President Bashar’s father. Vincent’s family fled to Iraq to avoid persecution. His father divorced his mother when he was about 3 years old, so he never really knew his father. His mother suffered severe post-partum depression after the birth of younger brother Mohammed. His mother killed his younger brother by cutting his head off, also when young Vincent was only 3. His mother has been mentally disturbed ever since, and Vincent has distanced himself from her.

As a result of all this turmoil, Vincent was raised by his grandmother, with whom he is now closest. In 1995, when he was 7 years old, the family returned to Syria while trying to escape the growing hardships resulting from the American orchestrated attack, followed by the no fly zones and embargo of Iraq.

Upon returning to Syria, the entire family was immediately arrested, and Vincent became a 7 year old prisoner. “For me, prison was like a school,” he says. They had fellow prisoners who served as teachers. After 3 months, the family was released, albeit with multiple restrictions: No passports, no educational opportunities, social distancing from friends and acquaintances who would risk persecution for any association with his family., No ability to rent a flat, etc. But over time, the restrictions eased somewhat after the second American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Vincent was able to finish high school and enter University at Latakia in 2009. “Those were the best 3 years of my life,” he laments nostalgically.

Then the Arab Spring happened in 2011. Initial circumstances seemed optimistic and encouraging, especially after apparent progress in Tunisia and Egypt. But then, the Assad regime put down an iron fist. Many of Vincent’s friends and neighbors and their entire families were slaughtered without any cause. Fellow students and friends were gunned down in the streets by snipers. Vincent continued in school for another year, but then conditions became too oppressive, so he had to leave university and flee for his life, having finished only 3 of his 4 years. He almost earned a degree in English literature, which is why he can now serve as one of our translators.

He went back to his hometown to his family and to hideout from security forces, who wanted him to serve in the Syrian Army. He hid out within the confines of his home in his small village for 3 years afraid to show his face outside: No job, no life no income no friends, etc.

Then family members with money offered him the financial means to take the chance to escape all this madness: to Turkey. And so he set off.

To get to Turkey, he had to cross Syrian territory that was occupied by Da’ish (ISIS). Unfortunately, he was captured, tortured and imprisoned for 2 months. Some of the torture he experienced included 10 days of sleep deprivation, being hung by his wrists suspended in the air for hours on end, being bludgeoned, being threatened with knives, gasoline and fire, electric shocks, etc. He was asked to recite verses from the Koran, and fortunately, he was able to do so, sufficiently. This probably saved his life, as he saw friends and comrades who had their necks slashed to death because they could not.

ISIS moved on to other torture victims and released him. Pressing onward to the Turkish border, he had to traverse mine fields, ISIS night patrols with mounted machine guns chasing them in the night and killing those behind him.

He made it across the border into Turkey, paying smugglers over a thousand dollars to bring him overland to Istanbul, then onward to Izmir. He paid other smugglers a thousand dollars more to take a harrowing rubber dinghy overfilled with refugees across the straits to the Greek Island of Chios. There he registered with the Greek government, received a 6 month visa and made it by ferry to Athens and the Greek mainland. After 13 days touring Athens, he took a train to Thessaloniki, then a bus, which dropped him off at Eko gas station, where he joined his “homies” (friends) in a tent. This is where he is now stranded. So with not much else to do, he is helping us take care of other Syrians who are sick.

Vincent has now given up any illusions about reaching Germany. His current hope is that he can somehow integrate himself here in Greece. Given what I now know, I see that it is better to have a warped sense of humor, than no sense of humor at all . . .

Screenshot 2016-04-11 at 9.29.57 PMNow I understand what you tried to say to me
how you suffered for your sanity
how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
they did not know how
perhaps they’ll listen now.*
_________________________________________

*From “Starry Starry Night”, Singer-Songwriter Don Mclean’s balad about Vincent Van Gogh, 1972

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 with Salaam Cultural Museum, a Seattle based nonprofit organization doing humanitarian and medical relief work with refugee populations in Lesbos and Idomeni, Greece.

 

Greece

Trying to Create Order out of Confusion and Chaos

April 1, 2016 Idomeni Greece By Dr. Bill Dienst

DSCN2007A week later, several changes are apparent here on the Greek-Macedonian border. The refugee population at Idomeni is starting to be reduced, slightly. Last Saturday, we witnessed a convoy of 4 buses full of refugees heading South on the Highway with police escorts. As far as we can tell, it appears that the population, once estimated as high as 20 thousand, is diminishing by several hundred each day. We are hearing that these are refugees willing to leave voluntarily: i.e. those who have had enough. These people are heading to reception or relocation centers which are being set up by the Greek military on the Greek mainland. There, they will have better living conditions and three square meals a day in exchange for finally sacrificing their ability to roam freely, as well as their hope for a better future in Northern Europe.

Still, many thousands remain who, so far, will not leave voluntarily: Those who have invested all their physical and financial resources to get this far and still have fading hopes for pressing on to Germany. Tensions are mounting. This past Sunday, the refugees who remain were joined by Italian and Spanish activists who flew in for the weekend to show their solidarity. They all assembled Sunday morning on the railroad tracks in the center of the refugee camp, about a hundred meters from the border. There, they were met by hundreds of Greek riot police, and a face-to-face standoff ensued.

Salaam Cultural Museum was trying to enter Idomeni camp with our mobile health van. We were blocked by the Greek Police while getting off the highway. We had to double back and take a 40 km detour through back roads and beautiful countrysides of foothills and vineyards to get to the camp. As we approached the camp, I jumped out with some others at the railway station and walked up the tracks through areas B and A toward Area C where our van was negotiating traffic to get into position at our usual spot.

DSCN1930We crossed the tracks in the middle of the confrontation: tense but not yet violent. A large crowd of refugees and their Italian and Spanish allies stood face to face with a line of police in full riot gear and shields. Slogans were being shouted. Our Norwegian partners, Medics Bergen were on standby with their trauma packs in hand. We pressed on 300 meters beyond and met up with our mobile health van in our usual spot in Area C across the road from the cluster of tents, which have become known as “Little Kurdistan”. There are also districts of Idomeni populated by Arabic speaking Syrians, Iraqis and Yazidis . . . also Pakistanis who speak Urdu and Pashtu, and others. Sometimes there are tensions between these different ethnic groups.

As we arrived, there did not seem to be much happening in terms of primary care at our usual spot. Many people were heading in the opposite direction toward the tracks and the border with all their belongings and with hopes they might finally get across. I started pulling our trauma first aid packs from the van and handing them out to our volunteers, with the intention of sending them back toward the tracks. But wait a minute . . . here is a Syrian family wanting some primary care. So we decided to see them before heading to the tracks. But before we had finished, several others arrived, and not too long after that, a long line had assembled and we were back in business. Hours later, we saw the Greek riot police walking out peacefully. Conflict had somehow been avoided, but I am not certain about the details, as I was caught up examining a lot of people with coughs, sore throats and other maladies by then.

So that was Sunday. On Monday, I inherited the role of being medical director of a freestanding medical clinic which was constructed out of plywood and tarp by Medecins Sans Frontieres. MSF decided to consolidate their operations in Idomeni. So they handed over operations for the clinic at EKO gas station to us. We moved in Monday, outfitted the clinic that morning, and started seeing patients at 2 pm. We have now offered 13 hours of continuous patient service per day for the past 2 days. Now it is Thursday . . .

DSCN1958 (1)Salaam Cultural Museum and Off Track Health had previously been present during the past few weeks running mobile health clinics at EKO gas station. Previously, EKO was the last bus stop where passengers coming from Athens were let off. Refugees getting off the bus there then had the option of taking a taxi, or walking 20 km up the highway to the border at Idomeni, or pitching a tent. And so may tents sprung up there, including many large ones sponsored by UNHCR. And so, a community of perhaps 1,200 refugees has sprung up: a ready made small town of refugees for this small town doctor now medical director of this small town clinic with a very small medical staff that changes every week.

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 with Salaam Cultural Museum, a Seattle based nonprofit organization doing humanitarian and medical relief work in Lesbos and Idomeni, Greece.