April 25, 2017

Our medical mission to Lebanon kicked off with a nice breakfast followed by group orientation with the 38 volunteers currently on SAMS’s medical mission to Lebanon. A few key statistics remind us of the gravity of the refugee crisis in Lebanon: 

  • Lebanon has a population of approximately 6 million. 
  • It is estimated that 1 in 3 people living in Lebanon are refugees. 
  • There are over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

After the orientation, we received our daily assignments, our volunteer badges and vests. Some of us were sent to specialty clinics run by SAMS, some went to the settlements or informal camps. My son, who accompanied me on this trip, went to the camps without me.

The camp he visited is located in the Beka’a Valley, about an hour outside of Beirut, and two kilometers from the Syrian border. There are no official camps in Lebanon, so refugees live in informal camps, settlements, or in urban areas. Of course, I entrusted my son to the care of Dr. Naveed Iqbal, Dr. Elaine Spirakes, and Dr. Madhavi Ryali. He spent the day dispensing medicine, playing with children and passing out goodie bags.

In my first day on the mission, I saw 22 patients with complex cardiac conditions. At least 8 will need some type of procedure. I will hopefully perform some of those procedures later in the week. Some will be performed by other teams visiting Lebanon in the future. 

This is my second mission with the Syrian American Medical Society and I’m grateful to be here as a guest of SAMS. The initial shock of encountering refugee life was what I had expected. There are no employment opportunities for educated and capable people, no form of consistent healthcare, and no proper education for children and young adults. Sadly, I also noticed a sense of permanence among the refugees. It has been almost 6 years. Last year, I sensed the urgency they felt to go back home, perhaps out of some sense of a possible end to the war. I am not suggesting they have accepting their situation: rather, there was a hopelessness as the current situation seems never ending.

Tonight, we had dinner at a restaurant named “House of Aleppo.” No doubt it was nostalgic for our team leaders as the food and especially the music reflected the rich history of a city completely destroyed by recent attacks. 
Dr. Moeen Saleem is a cardiologist at Advocate Health Care based in Illinois. He is one of 38 volunteers currently on a SAMS medical mission to provide care to refugees in Lebanon. To find out more about our work in Lebanon, please read our annual report. Your support allows us to continue providing dignified care to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Greece.