April 27, 2015

storieswithaheartbeatStories with a Heartbeat is an initiative led by poet Will McInerney and doctor Mohanned Mallah to document the stories of medical professionals and their patients through creative, engaging, and dynamic storytelling. 

Throughout March, the Stories with a Heartbeat team of Will McInerney and Mike Mallah, traveled to Palestine, Jordan, and Turkey to document the work of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) and SAMS. This project brings a beautiful voice to those who endure and work in heartbreaking crises everyday using poetically infused written and photographic creative products. Enjoy Chapter Six of Stories with a Heartbeat and be sure to check out their facebook page for more wonderful stories.

Chapter 6: Seeing a Smile

Dr. Hassan is the psychiatrist at the Al Salam School. He sits behind his desk with neatly folded hands and a small paper cup of coffee. Mental health is a particularly challenging issue for refugees escaping conflict, and this challenge can be amplified for children whose minds are still rapidly developing. Everyone at this school has lost someone. Everyone. “We have completely gotten used to this,” he says. The mental and physical effects of loss on this scale take their toll on the kids. Dr. Hassan tries his best to help them cope.

Dr. Hassan is from Homs, once referred to as the “capital of the revolution” this crumbling city is now in the hands of Syrian government forces. “From the clinic I was working in, I could see people being killed,” he says. This happened again and again. Eventually he had to flee.

Now in Turkey, Dr. Hassan rotates between working at the Al Salam School one week and at refugee camps and clinics inside Syria the next. He takes no time off. “Even though I feel the struggle when I am inside and I work 20 hours out of 24, I feel they need 100 people like me. Of course there is a shortage of medicine. It’s completely not enough, people have fallen apart.”

People have fallen apart, he says.

Dr. Hassan’s family is falling apart as well. Two of his children are here with him at the Al Salam School. But his wife and eldest son are back in Homs. Each day his wife waits, each day his son sits in a prison cell. Dr. Hassan has not seen either of them in 2 years. We ask the doctor why his son was arrested. He laughs. “No reason. He was walking in the streets, they asked for his ID, and they took him,” he says.

We ask Dr. Hassan who helps him with his own issues? What does he do? “Despite all the struggle and pain and stress, when I see a patient who has had a positive reaction or excel, this gives me the most peace of mind,” he says.

His assistant Shaasad speaks up as well. When Dr. Hassan is working inside Syria, she is in charge back at the school. “One day I was walking in the street and one of my patients saw me. The patient came up, hugged me, and spun me around,” she says. Those are the moments of joy that keep them going.

Thanks to people like Dr. Hassan and Shaasad, this school is full of young vibrant smiling faces. Despite the difficult and complex circumstances, they are making progress. “I hope for the future, that they are the future,” Shaasad says.

Before we leave, the doctor tells us he prays the world will wake up and see what’s going on here. What’s happening to a whole generation of Syrian children. “If you don’t struggle to see and listen and understand you are going to be blind and deaf your entire life. But if you want, you will see, he says”.

If we want, we will see.