In the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel with a non-profit organization (SAMS) to Jordan to provide eye care for refugees and other underserved populations. I traveled with a large team of healthcare providers spanning all specialities, including a team of 6 ophthalmologists from all over the US. Most of the people we treated were refugees who fled the war in Syria. I saw patients in the infamous Zaatari refugee camp, in a make-shift clinic in a small border town, and in a modern eye hospital in the capital, Amman. I performed some laser and cataract surgeries, but primarily, I did exams for medical conditions of the eyes and glasses prescriptions. We worked for 6 days straight. In one day alone, I saw over 50 patients in the refugee camp.
I walked away in awe of the strength and resilience of these people. Empowered by their will to not give in to desperation, to not curl up and cry about injustice, to push on and build a life for themselves under these awful new circumstances. They were kind, appreciative, funny and sometimes very clearly depressed. The children still had a sparkle in their eye and hope for the future. One little boy (featured above in the picture at the slit lamp) was accompanying his grandfather who was one of our cataract surgery patients. When I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said he wanted to be an ophthalmologist like me.
Much of what I did was listen to people’s concerns about their eyes, do a quick examination, and give them a bottle of artificial tears, after they had been lined up outside for hours waiting for their turn to be seen. But their gratitude that someone took the time to fly across the world, leaving their own family and job, and peek into a slice of their life, made those moments more meaningful. I believe that the impact we make on people in these situations (just as in my everyday medical practice) surpasses the actual medical care that we provide. I believe that we can convey a sense of worthiness and value to each individual, a feeling of collective humanity, and a ray of hope for brighter times.
I was overcome with my own sense of gratitude. Gratitude for my overly comfortable life, for my excellent education and training, and for having a skill to offer those in need. The ability to help others is a privilege. It was my honor to serve in this capacity, and I hope to have similar opportunities in the future.