Témoignage: the action to testify, to report what we saw, what we heard, and what we now know.
This is a term that has been adopted by MSF, Doctors without Borders, as one of their core principles. I personally adopted this as one of my own principles for international medicine and humanitarian work although I do not work with MSF. According to MSF’s principles, it is important to bear witness in order to better understand our humanitarian responsibilities, rather than reducing them to strictly charitable actions. This gives meaning and weight to the work, individualizing it when a face is placed with a story.
"We need a physician to run our pediatrics clinic in Bolivia. Will you do it?"
This is how the adventure starts. If I'm being frank, this is USUALLY how the adventure starts, as it's rare for me to decline an offer when a memorable experience awaits. I blame my love for travel when combined with my passion for medicine. I just can't say no.
Last summer, I traveled to the Jordan/Syrian border to provide medical care for hundreds of Syrian refugees – the vast majority of them women and children. I worked with marginalized populations before, but this was an experience unlike any other. It affected me. It changed me. And it absolutely changed my view of international medicine especially in the context of humanitarian work.
"Anyone who has truly suffered knows this: suffering is neither glamorous nor edifying. It can be redemptive, but must never be romanticized."
Traveling to a place in conflict or a third-world country to provide medical care is often more heartbreaking than it is heartwarming. In the face of stacked odds and overwhelming sickness, it is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. Working with the Syrian refugees, I felt myself traverse through an emotional pendulum in the course of the day.
Join me on a typical day.
Since the onset of the Syrian conflict, refugees have been flooding into neighboring countries, searching for a sense of peace and safety that they have lost in their home. Zaatari, first opened in 2012, is now considered one of the fourth largest “cities” in Jordan and is jointly administered by the Jordanian government and regulated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Since its opening, its population has grown exponentially, with over half of its inhabitants under the age of 18.
In medicine, we are trained to help others. We spend years upon years getting an education so we can give people answers and treatments and make things better. But in situations like this, it sometimes feels like we are spinning our wheels. Yes, doing something is better than doing nothing – but sometimes, even that something is not enough.
Amman is the capital of Jordan and has a population of just over 4 million. It is considered one of the most liberal Arab cities in the Middle East. It is situated on the East Bank Plateau and was originally built on seven hills, its terrain now spread among a variation in elevation.
As a physician, I feel a personal responsibility to do good – to help and to heal in any way I possibly can. I have the capability to help others in a way that most other people cannot. It’s the reason I went into medicine and why I wake up every day feeling lucky to be able to do something that I’m so in love with.
Jordan is an Arab country in what is politically known as the Middle East. The country is bordered on the north by Syria, to the east by Iraq, and by Saudi Arabia on the east and south. To the west is Israel and the occupied West Bank, while Jordan’s only outlet to the sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, is to the south.
There are certain moments and experiences in ones life that can be said to be “life-changing”. We all have them, whether we recognize it at the moment or not.