Lebanon | Lucia with young patients from Syria at a temporary MAGNA mediacal centre during a visit to one of the refugee camps near Baalbek. © Martin Bandžák / MAGNA
Lucia, MAGNA’s executive director in the Czech Republic, tagged along with Martin Bandžák to Lebanon, where MAGNA is treating Syrian children and their families in temporary refugee camps, to find out how funds raised from Slovaks and Czechs is helping directly in the field.
During World Refugee Day in June, MAGNA organised its first virtual photographic exhibition - My Child. 80 personalities from Slovakia and 80 personalities from the Czech Republic simultaneously shared a portrait of a Syrian child on their Facebook accounts, creating a unique virtual exhibition of photographs by Martin Bandžák. Over two days, more than € 10,000 was collected from both countries to help children from Syria. These funds are bound for Lebanon, where since 2016 MAGNA has been treating Syrian children and their families who had to leave their homes and are waiting in temporary camps for the war to end and to be able to return home.
I decided to go to Lebanon and see for myself how money donated by Slovaks and Czechs is helping in the field, while trying to describe my own experiences. I arrived in Beirut at 4 o’clock in the morning local time. Ahmad, our administrator, picked me up at the airport and took me to where MAGNA founder Martin was waiting at the MAGNA office, as in the next few hours still others began spilling in. My first coffee in Beirut, from a street stall whose owner smiled and waved at Martin from a distance, left me fluttered for two hours and for a while I thought my heart was going to burst. Even though the coffee was fantastic, I never went back there again. For someone who ordinarily drinks instant coffee, it was so much stronger than any you could ever imagine. Beirut, called until recent times the “Paris of the Middle East”, is a city full of contradictory experiences. It has everything and yet nothing. The city glitters and yet is savage, there is dust and yet it is amiable, the sea does not humidify the air as we Europeans on holiday are accustomed to, but its beauty is only revealed to anyone who can break through to it. There it “opens the arms majestically” and you can enjoy it from any of the restaurants where you can get coffee or water.
Now we are leaving for Baalbek, a city whose history was written thousands of years ago and is being written again today. It was the city Jean Cocteau fell in love with and where he wrote some of his work. MAGNA runs its health centre in this city, has its base here and also keeps a mobile healthcare team ready. Lebanon officially has 1.5 million refugees from Syria, and unofficially 700,000 more. Every 2-3 people living in Lebanon today is a Syrian refugee. Lebanon has never recognised any of these people as refugees, so those inside Lebanon are still citizens of Syria, with no choice but to wait until the border reopens and for the return home, hoping some bit of home still remains.
Mohammed is the MAGNA health centre's chief physician, and a pleasant, quite nice person. He speaks lovely, soft English and an even more flowery Russian, which he learned from studying in Kiev, a city he enjoyed very much. Mohammed still takes pleasure in recalling his university days there. He corrects quite gracefully my attempts at Russian, which I only learned during primary school, and chats with us quite a bit as we travel toward the first camp to visit Syrian children. As soon as he gets out of the car, he and his medical team – a smiling psychologist and nurse – start concentrating and toughening themselves up for the job ahead of them. It takes very little time for them to set up the medical centre in a shelter at the middle of the camp. Children run out of temporary shelters, quite curious. They look over the medical facility, staring intently at it. A few minutes later mothers come with sick children in their arms. They press forward. Mohammed's nurse will now sort them in a queue with kindness and slowly write out the children’s names and ages. The mothers continue to push, talking among themselves as a crowd of children weave in and out between them as they move toward the doctor. They want to see, hear and just be involved in everything. Mohammed laughs, looks at every child with a kind expression and speaks Syrian Arabic to them. Every child gets on his or her side within a few moments so he can examine them very quickly. The crowd of young children are again shoving, this time to see what has happened. They show their hands and feet to get the doctor’s attention, too. At any moment, the doctor will pick his head up from the patient he is examining and talk to the other children, calming them down, and yet they keep looking him over more and more. Mothers carrying in their arms either newborn children or children not walking, and in many cases the fathers have come as well. The pain is evident in everyone’s eyes. Bronchitis, eczema, sore throat and diarrhoea are the most common ailments these children have. After treating 70 patients, Mohamed announces with a smile that he is taking a five-minute break. Then he sits down and starts talking to the children. He explains to me the difficulties most common among children in such an environment. There are severe cases where doses of medication are not enough, and he invites them to see him at the MAGNA health office in the city, or he straight away agrees to the parents going to a specialised health centre or hospital. Wrinkles start to form on his forehead and it is clear in the 40-degree temperature that he is getting a little tired. He stands up and the crowd in front of him is still as long as it was earlier; only the people within it have changed slightly, and for the most part the expectant mothers keep coming. The nurse writes down their names, ages, how many pregnancies they have been through and how many children they have. The psychologist will talk with them about their troubles, she tells the doctor, and then she begins diagnosing her patients and mentioning the options available to help a pregnant woman. Very discreetly, as is possible under these conditions, Mohammed suggests a solution and prospective treatment. The crowd of young children is still moving and jumping around each patient. Adolescents slowly come from work and run to get into the queue. They have various problems with eczema on their hands and feet, with breathing, and some of them just need to talk. The queue is already getting smaller. Several older women, chronically ill, have now come looking for the special medication they need. The nurse writes everything done as the doctor takes their blood pressure, diagnoses their children and prescribes drugs. If Mohammed does not happen to have the prescribed medicine with him, he will agree to bring it on the next visit. After an exhausting three hours, the MAGNA health team packs everything up, leaves the temporary camp and continues a few kilometres further. Three days a week a MAGNA mobile clinic is pitched at temporary camps around Baalbek.
Every month, MAGNA healthcare professionals treat more than 800 children and their family members. They give everyone they meet a smile and some hope. And they give me one, too. Their patience, professionalism and dedication to their job are admired. At each place they visit there are more ill children than healthy ones.
Author: Lucia Medková