A homeless family seeks shelter. A baby sleeps in a stable. As the Christmas story was celebrated worldwide last month, the plight of Syrian refugees brought real meaning to the birth of Jesus for missionaries from St. John Medical Center in Westlake.
Dr. Eiad Sayed, Kristin Hoops, RN, and Nicki Vacco, RN, have been leading a medical relief team to Jordan every two months for the past year. They assist the displaced in their fight to survive the civil war that plagues Syria.
“This is the season for giving and love. The story of the Holy Family reminds us that there are many people living in the equivalent of stables and barns in Jordan, just a few miles from their home country of Syria,” said Dr. Sayed, an internal medicine specialist with offices on the campus of St. John Medical Center.
“There are over six million people displaced there, and half of them are children,” he said. “This crisis is now in its third year. And this year it is cold over there. People are freezing, children are showing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and there are shortages of food and medicine.”
The SJMC team made its last trip to Jordan Nov. 15-22. They are going again in January. Their destination is the Zaatari Refugee Camp — a refugee community on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. More than 160,000 displaced persons from Syria call it home.
Dr. Sayed, Hoops (a labor and delivery nurse), and Vacco, (a surgical nurse at SJMC), have traveled to Syria for a year now. They go under the auspices of the Salaam Cultural Museum Medical Mission – a nonprofit organization that provides aid and assistance to displaced Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence in Syria.
“It is a reminder to the Syrian government that Americans do care,” said Dr. Sayed.
The three fund their trips personally and also rely on donations.. They take suitcases packed with medical supplies. They set up clinics in private apartments and tents, pharmacies in storage units and medical care wherever a sympathetic door is opened.
The atrocities they witness are extraordinary. They have stories of children being shot in front of parents, torture and deprivation of physical necessities basic to life.
“They wait for us to come back every two months,” said Dr. Sayed. “And they offer us anything they may have in appreciation, even if it is just a little food.”
“You run on adrenaline the whole time you are there,” said Hoops. “The parents of teenage girls, they don’t even have time to explain to these girls about the adolescent changes that are going on with their bodies. They are too busy running for their lives.”
The sponsoring website, www.SalaamCulturalMuseum.org, is replete with stories of survival, torture and human suffering caused by this civil war.
One blog post on the site talks of a dad and his 14-year old daughter who attempted to go grocery shopping. They were ambushed by the regime. The dad was shot in both legs but not killed. Why? The shooters wanted him to be alive while they pulled the trigger on his daughter.
“I was later told that the regime is known for shooting the parent in front of their child…but ensuring they are only wounded and unable to move…so, that they can then shoot the child in front of the parent…so, he can watch his child die,” reports the blogger. “This is exactly what happened.”
You can read the entire blog post here:
“People usually go to Jordan to visit Biblical sights. We go to makeshift clinics,” said Dr. Sayed. “We have to do it!”
Despite the scale and duration of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, government and international intervention has not come. “The United Nations has been asked for $6 billion in aid, but even that would only come to a thousand dollars for each refugee,” said Dr. Sayed.
“We are only able to do this one person at a time. But any effort will help,” said Hoops. “When you go, you think it is just going to be a drop in the bucket. But you visit clinics, you help people, you see just what a difference you can make.”
For information on how to help support this mission, please visit www.SalaamCulturalMuseum.org