By MAYA PAGE
Imagine waking up to bomb barrels instead of alarm clocks. Imagine being scared to go to a hospital in fear of being killed in a place meant to heal. This is the reality for millions of children and families in Syria.
On Feb. 15 the Arab Cultural Club hosted a Syrian awareness event, “Voice for Syria,” with special guests Dr. Jihad Al Harash and Pharmacist Dr. Ekta Patel.
The event focused on the devastating effects of the ongoing war in Syria, the efforts of the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS) and how students can make a difference.
Harash and Patel talked about their experiences working with the SAMS foundation. SAMS is a nonprofit and nonpolitical medical and humanitarian organization that is working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries.
American doctors risk their lives to give vulnerable families access to medicine, supplies, educational training and technology that is nonexistent in these countries.
Healthcare has been militarized. In Aleppo, one hospital has been hit 14 times in six months, according to the presentation. More than 800 medical professionals have been killed and tortured, and barrel bombs are being thrown into hospitals, destroying places that were once safe.
Harash gave a short background on the history of how his country ended up in flames.
“It started off as peaceful protests [the 2010 Arab Spring protests] and the response from the government was to bomb and kill,” he said. “And it has not stopped since.”
Twelve areas in Syria are now under siege, 10 by Syrian regime and Hezbollah, one by ISIS and one by rebels. Two- and-a-half million people are in areas under siege or areas inaccessible to international humanitarian aid, and some have been under siege for over 36 months.
Starvation is being used as a weapon. There is no access to food, baby formula or medical supplies.
“Their bodies are turning green because they have nothing to eat besides the lettuce from the ground,” Harash said.
During a time where many citizens, refugees and doctors feel hopeless, there is one thing that has given them to ability to stay strong, and that is SAMS. In 2017 alone, SAMS helped over two million patients, 183,000 refugees, delivered 26,000 babies and gone on 39 medical missions around the world including in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece.
SAMS has also ventured out to places in the U.S. during times of need and natural disasters. After Hurricane Harvey in Florida, SAMS put together a team and made a medical clinic/ pharmacy on wheels. They drove around to different cities helping those in need with no cost, and also went to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
“You go on these missions thinking you’re going to help someone and you’re going to change someone’s life, but it is you that comes back with a changed life,” Patel said. “You were the one that was helped.”
SAMS is always looking for volunteers. To go on missions, you must either speak Arabic or be a licensed medical physician, however there are other things that can be done to help.
Student membership is free, and with that membership, you can become an advocate for humanitarian cause, attend local and national conferences, galas, symposiums and fundraising events. It is also a way to network and meet professionals from both the medical and non-medical fields.
For more information, visit sams-usa.net. You can also become a member of the Arab Cultural Club or attend their sponsored events. For more information, visit their Facebook page, Arab Cultural Club – FDU Metro.