Medicine, understanding and an opportunity to play

Published: 26 September 2013 15:24 CET

By Vivian Tou’meh, Syria

Just about 20km away from the relative normality and safety of Damascus city centre there is another world. This is a world of sadness and harsh realities of internally displaced people, who have lost their homes, incomes and – in many cases – their loved ones.

Al-Adliah collective school in Rural Damascus provides shelter for almost 30 families and 136 people. Each classroom houses at least one family; there is no furniture other than old carpets on the floor and mattresses piled along the walls waiting for the night. Some rooms are turned into kitchens with simple, small cookers on the floor.

The arrival of Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) Mobile Health Unit brings the residents gathering around the vehicle: it is important and much anticipated. Women line up to get help with the health problems many face as a result of their situation.

“70 per cent of the patients are children, most of them with respiratory illnesses,” says Dr. Tarek Tanirah from SARC. “Many of the adult patients suffer from orthopedic and neurological diseases and arthritis. Many of the female patients have gynecologic problems. Also lice and scabies are often a problem in the crowded shelter.”

For Jawaher, 35, the visit of the mobile health unit is vital. The young mother has seven children, the youngest one just a baby in her arms.

“I lost my husband in a car accident and my 13 years old son Hasan suffered severe injuries, She says. “He has several fractures in his body and he lost most of his teeth.” She watches as SARC staff change Hasan’s bandages. Jawaher’s youngest daughter, six-month-old Shahad, is also sick and will have a clinical test at the unit.

Zaher, a 32-year-old father of three children who all have hemophilia, says there are no medicines available. A former salesman of clothes from al-Hujeirra, he and his family have been living in the shelter for 18 months.

“Our house and our shop was destroyed,” he says. “We came here because we had no other place to go. The mobile health unit has helped us a lot especially during my wife’s pregnancy period and they also referred us to the hospital for the birth.”

But the health problems are just one small portion of the difficulties people are experiencing here.

“All men here are jobless. I just hope to find a source of income, I feel ashamed for not having a work”, says Zaher.

Meanwhile the adults are getting help for their problems and have people listening to their concerns while the children have a rare opportunity for fun. Along with their weekly visits, the unit always brings along a group of volunteers from the psychosocial support team. They play with the children spreading joy and bringing smiles to their small faces. For a while there is no poverty or pain; the children are just children, now drawing and playing theatre.

Volunteer Lina Abou Akel says: “During our weekly visit to this center we involve dynamic and psychological activities for children. We try to raise the psychological awareness and teach them how to deal with their sadness.”

“It is very important that the children learn to show their feelings.”

“These units have proved to be very useful in Damascus suburbs, where our sub-branches and health points have been unable to work,” says Dr. Abdul Rahman Attar, the president of SARC.

At the moment SARC has 12 operational units providing health care and medicines to displaced people inside the shelters around the country.

Another six units, supported by ECHO, were received from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. They will be ready to be deployed shortly.

“SARC’s mobile health units cover the areas where the government health services do not exist at all, also inside the temporary collective shelters. We provide a wide range of health care but also medication for chronic illnesses. Besides, nobody else than these units are offering psychosocial support, which is very important,” says Dr Tanirah.