Dr. Rawan Abdelhaq visited UCD last Thursday to give a talk on her experience last year working in Lebanon with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an NGO who provide emergency healthcare worldwide.
Raised in Tipperary, the UCC graduate said that the mission was a ‘‘once in a lifetime experience.’’ She had been dreaming of such an opportunity since seeing MSF workers on the news when she was 13. Talking to UCD Friends of MSF, Abdelhaq revealed how joining UCC Friends of MSF kept her dream alive.
During the six-month mission Abdelhaq worked in the Bekaa Valley as head of the non-clinical diseases programme, working with Syrians who had fled violence in their home country. As refugees are not allowed to form legitimate refugee camps, they rent land off farmers for their informal settlements. Every day Adbelhaq worked in one of three MSF clinics. The three clinics included two mother and child clinics and one paediatric inpatient unit. Dealing with chronic health issues, Abdelhaq worked with six other expats on her mission with the 150 national staff.
Lebanon currently has 300-400,000 documented refugees and an estimated 1.5 million altogether. Of the four million people living in Lebanon, at least one quarter are refugees. As the Lebanese government has stopped documenting refugees to limit the numbers arriving, MSF stepped in to help the growing population access healthcare. MSF work to improve health conditions, especially with pregnant women, who previously had a high mortality rate.
MSF also started mental health outreach clinics and counselling services, and they established focus groups to deal with gender-based violence. Abdelhaq spoke about family planning groups that were available for the Lebanese girls who get married at 14 and begin having children after their wedding. They often have up to 12 children.
Abdelhaq recounted the “palpable sadness” that encompassed the Syrian people who long for the better life they had in Syria, but also said that they are resilient people. There is a constant police presence and despite hearing gunshots at times, Abdelhaq says she always felt safe. Abdelhaq encourages anyone who is interested in the work to join MSF, the organisation seek help from everyone, including non-medical workers.