“It’s a huge crisis, I think probably one
of the biggest humanitarian crises that there’s been in the last 10 years. It’s definitely shocking to see the conditions
that people are living in. The camp is located on the Syrian-Jordanian border and it is miles and miles long.
It’s the largest refugee camp in the world. The conditions are really poor.
They live mostly in tin sheds. There’s no grass. There’s no water.
It’s basically in the middle of a desert. “What drives me to be involved with refugee health
is I myself am a refugee. This has kind of been an interest and a passion of mine,
of having that opportunity to give back. I guess I was really fortunate and
that Dr. Behshad already had a relationship established and he asked me to come
participate with him. Hundreds of patients will show up in the morning and
line up and you know your time is limited and your resources are limited.
You may be the only doctor that that refugee may see, and so that’s the only opportunity
they have, and so you really
need to be on top of your stuff. A high percentage of the refugees are..
I think it’s close to 40 percent of the camp, is actually children are under the age of 18.
Some of these children have been born in the camp. and so some of them have never been anywhere else, which means that they haven’t had
access to a pediatric ophthalmologist or a really specific eye care specialist.
And and so when I see them, sometimes it’s the first time
they’ve ever had an eye exam. So far, we’ve already screened 10 percent
of all of the children in Zaatari refugee camp, which is a pretty large amount when
the overall population is 90,000. One of the most impactful thing that
patients tell me when I see them there is they see someone from another country who cares who came all across the world to provide some sort of service.
And I really think this population really feels forgotten. One of the major surgeries that we do there
is cataract surgery. Their immediate responses is “Thank you you, not only
for helping me to be able to see, but now I can support my family.” We always include medical students
from Jordan as part of our process and we have also brought out ophthalmologists
who are currently working in the war zone in Syria to provide them with further training —
really trying to magnify the impact that we’re having in this area of the world.
But it couldn’t be done without the partnerships and associations with other
organizations, in particular the Syrian American Medical Society and
also local Jordanian ophthalmologists as well. We’re traveling halfway around the world.
I know there are people here that we can help, and so I did a little bit of research online
and I ended up finding an article about the Mayor of Clarkston and how he has
been extremely proactive in accepting refugees. “The Clarkston Community Health Center was
set up by a few community members who really wanted to provide care to
their community, which includes refugees but also many of the local people
who don’t have insurance. Soroosh and I did a visit there one
weekend and found out that they really did have a need for some other equipment
and more frequent eye exams. I approached them about setting up a consistent
eye clinic and they were very open to the idea and very supportive, and then
brought it back to Emory, who then helped provide some equipment
to get the clinic started. I have learned how to carry everything that I need
to do an eye exam for a kid in a small backpack. Now I know that I can pretty much go anywhere,
like go to the Clarkston clinic, and just bring a few things with me and
be able to do a full exam for a kid. This also has given an opportunity for
our own residents and medical students to get involved in their community and volunteer.
We kind of talk about refugees as being a burden, and my experience has been
that this group is not a burden, these are actually gems.
For me, it gives me hope for the future. As long as the refugees are there,
we’re going to continue to do what
we can to provide them with eye care. They’ve been through so much,
but they are incredibly strong people, and they have this optimism that
I don’t I don’t know how it exists…
but it’s incredible.”