Monday, 12 September 2016

Day 10 and 11 SAMS Global Response: last days

Day 10 started with the penultimate Project Awesome session. We did push ups, sit ups, burpees and ran lengths of the grass before heading back to the hotel for breakfast and the morning briefing.

After the briefing we had a team leaders meeting, to try and work out issues we were having at the camp. Previously we had been feeding back problems to Alison the Medical Coordinator, but she was a bit overwhelmed and we realised it was quicker and simpler, and reduced her workload if the team leaders met each day to brainstorm common problems occurring in clinics. We identified lack of translations for patients at hospitals, and lack of guidelines for treatment or management of common conditions as pressing issues. It was also thought that team leader meetings would help new team leaders with handover and ensure better continuity given the regularly changing stream of volunteers.




The day at the clinic started as usual, but we had a different community triage officer join us from Karamanli. We had a similar time; a few infants with coughs and fevers, chasing referrals for camp residents with chronic conditions. Handling stories of frustration at the slow rate that people were being seen in hospital, or anger at the conditions in the camp.

That evening we went into Thessaloniki again to celebrate the last night of another group of volunteers.

Thursday morning we were joined at the clinic by Sara, a physiotherapist from Bradford in the UK. She took over a clinic room and saw patients along with Abdul, assessing their musculo-skeletal complaints. A fair number of the camps residents have bad backs, slipped discs or sciatic. Sara was able to relieve some of their symptoms with massage therapy, and during first aid training she taught a number of them specific exercises and forms of massage that could be used to alleviate the chronic conditions. While not necessarily curable, many of the effects of the conditions could be minimised with massage and regular exercise, something that was entirely possible within the camp.

It was my last day so I spent much of the morning handing over all the tasks to Debbie, a medic from London who was taking over the team leader role from me. In amongst seeing patients we went through the triage sheet, the referral system and the procedures for escalating issues within the SAMS team or to the Greek emergency services.

That afternoon I had to complete the work myself and Omar began on the refugee trauma training initiative. We had been given several dozen copies of the Arabic language training manual that the volunteers would be taught on. These needed to be distributed among the camp so the volunteers could read them in advance of the training, familiarise themselves with the material and decide wether the course was for them. I drove to Frakapor to distribute the manuals there, while Omar covered Karamanli, and Abdul, Iliadis. A couple of volunteers had recruited more people to the initiative which was welcome. I was escorted round Frakapor camp by a young Kurdish-Syrian university student. He helped me locate the volunteers and translated my briefing for each one before I handed over the manual.

We chatted about where he learnt his English, and what his plans were. He had learnt some at school and university, and self-taught the rest through music and films. He badly wanted to go to and English speaking country, as he didn't want to spend another two years of his life learning a new language, as would probably happen if he went to German, Portugal or Spain. This was a common worry among the community translators, that they would end up in a country where their language skills were useless and they would have to begin again in an entirely new language, rather than being able to go straight into education and training, as they could in Britain.

I felt a deep sadness when chatting and hanging out with the translators. Being able to communicate better with them, I formed a deeper connection than with the other refugees. Many of them were in their early 20s, and should have been enjoying being young and alive and having their whole lives ahead of them. Yet, here they were stuck in the purgatory of the refugee camp, not sure what was going to happen to them, not knowing whether they would have to start all over again when they were finally processed by the asylum system and sent to another European country.

They were safe, and had food and shelter and friends, but it was also clear how utterly inadequate having these things was to satisfying their needs as human beings. Having the bare minimum just accentuated the frustrations, and made the promise that Europe used to hold for them, all the more bitter. Despite this few of them seemed despondent, and all relished the chance to practice their English and help out their fellow Syrians in the camp.

That evening we had another session for the SAMS volunteers with the psychologists. Having spent the last two days mentally winding down from the work in preparation for going home, it was quite painful to bring up a lot of the experiences again. I'd been mentally compartmentalising what I'd seen and done so I could seperate myself from it and go back to the UK and get on with life, and the session made me bring out all those thoughts and memories and experience them again. Also the session was dragged on for far too long by the psychologist, which made it extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome Still there were some worthwhile moments, as people shared accounts that had touched them and unintentionally funny incidents that had shown peoples human nature, for all its faults and complexity.

Alex, a consultant from the UK recounted how one of their patients with a chronic wound had discharged themselves from hospital against the wishes of the Greek doctors and caused a massive scene. When they asked around his friends to try and find out why he didn't stay, eventually they were told that the patient, a young guy in his 20s, had just broken up with his girlfriend. In his depressed, heartbroken state, he didn't care what happened to his wound or his life so he had left hospital to go and mope in the camp. It was both deeply illuminating and comic that even in the tragic circumstances the refugees found themselves, they would act just as anyone else would, full of complications, contradictions and maddeningly irrational behaviour.

That night we went into Thessaloniki for one last time to eat and enjoy the sights. It was a lovely evening with most of the group, chatting about what the next few weeks held for the new volunteers, and what those of us returning home would be doing with ourselves. Ala confessed he was very sad that I was going, and I promised I would come back to Thessaloniki to see him and Abdul and the others as soon as I could.

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