April 9, 2015
Dr. Gregory Lewis describes his experiences on the Jordan medical mission:
I am working with they Syrian American Medical Society here in Jordan and have been traveling with a team of 35 doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and translators from all over the world to various locations to provide needed medical and mental health services.
I was initially concerned that I might not fit in well since I was “only” a psychologist. As it turns out, my services have been desperately needed and the doctors have welcomed me with open arms and have gone out of their way to assist me. They have been very concerned about the mental health of the Syrian refugees and have asked me about how I help people deal with trauma and how I personally cope with dealing with their stories. We have just finished our fourth day working in the refugee camps and it has been a pretty unbelievable experience. The poverty, hopelessness, and trauma the refugees have experienced is beyond describable. They live in tents and metal shacks with no grass or trees around. I have seen several refugees who either witnessed terrible traumas or were directly tortured themselves. They have very high rates of PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and very little medication or counseling resources to assist them. They often cannot feed their children or keep them warm. The children have few, if any, toys to play with. I have seen several developmentally delayed children who have no services available to them.
I saw a Syrian refugee who had never been seen by any of the medical professionals before. She came in asking for medication for her stomachaches. However, it quickly became apparent to me that what she really needed was documentation from someone like me that she could send to the Swedish government to allow her to go to Sweden with her children and mother-in-law to be reunited with her husband, who had gone there to find work and obtain asylum after being persecuted in Syria. I did a brief one hour psychological evaluation in support of her asylum claim (normally I spend 3 – 7 hours doing them) and stayed up last night writing a 5-page report that was given her today when she returned. The deadline for her to get this documentation to Sweden was today, or she would lose her opportunity for asylum. We were able to send this to Sweden electronically. I realized then that God had me here for a reason and that my expertise in asylum work was was one of them.
This has been any eye-opening experience for me. I know my life will forever be changed as a result of this work and although I am exhausted from our long days in the camps, I am looking forward to the rest of my time here and to helping those in need. Several of the traumatized men I have seen have asked if I could stay so they could see me for counseling. One of the hardest things we have all had to come to grips with here is the limitations on what we can do in a short period of time and the very few resources that exist for follow-up services. However, there is a remarkable spirit of camaraderie amongst the medical team that motivates us to do whatever we can to ease the plight of the Syrian refugees to some extent and to assist them in improving their health and mental health. I feel privileged to be a part of the SAMS team and privileged to be able to work with the refugees. I only hope that other medical professionals, especially psychologists and psychiatrists, will see the importance of this type of work and will themselves volunteer for future medical missions.