Sheridan certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) Cherene Saradar and Sherri Snell generously spent a week of their vacation time in Greece recently helping some of the 50,000 Syrian and Afghan refugees living there in camps. Cherene, who works primarily at Mercy Hospital in Miami, Florida, is a Syrian-American whose father is from Syria. They were joined by Cherene’s father, Dr. Riad Saradar, who is originally from Syria and still has family living in that war-torn country, where anti-government protests escalated into a full-scale civil war. Over the past five years, the armed violence has caused the loss of more than 250,000 Syrian lives and forced more than 4.5 million Syrians to flee the country, according to the BBC News.
Cherene was looking for a more effective way to help the refugees than just writing to Congress and donating money, which she has been doing for several years. Her friend Rebecca Johnson, the medical volunteer coordinator for humanitarian aid organization Off Track Health, recruited both Cherene and Sherri, who works at Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Florida, for a medical mission to Greece. Sherri and Cherene had worked together at the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami and were looking forward to joining forces with “to provide compassion and care to our fellow humans that are in desperate need of medical care, food, shelter, hope, kindness and understanding,” as Sherri put it. Cherene also recruited her father, a recently retired doctor whose fluency in both Arabic and English would be very valuable.
When they arrived in Greece, Sherri and the Saradars divided their time between the brand-new Oinofyta refugee camp and the three-week-old Ritsona refugee camp about 10 minutes away. The trio packed a lot into their one-week stay. They organized a bus-based mobile medical clinic that previously had been used at another refugee camp to ready it for use at the new Oinofyta camp. The clinic bus was in disarray, piled high with boxes of supplies that had been donated by other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and medications from all over Europe that were labeled in a variety of languages, and it took a day and a half for Cherene, Sherri and Dr. Saradar to finish organizing all the supplies and identifying and categorizing all the medications.
The Ritsona camp already was the long-term temporary home to more than 900 mostly Syrian but also some Iraqi and Afghan refugees. Cherene, Sherri and Dr. Saradar discovered that their medical skills weren’t as much in need as they had anticipated, because the refugees needed to go to the local clinic or hospital to get things like an x-ray or to have surgery. Since transportation to the medical facilities hadn’t been arranged, the three volunteers took care of transporting anyone needing medical help beyond what they could provide at the camp.
Before leaving the U.S., Cherene and Sherri had raised money to purchase items for the refugees while they were in Greece, thanks in large part to generous donations by Sheridan colleagues. Based on conversations that they and Dr. Saradar had with other NGO volunteers and refugees, they put together a shopping list of items that would improve the residents’ day-to-day lives at the camps, including sunscreen to protect their skin and toys for the children. Once the first refugees arrived at the Oinofyta camp, the Saradars and Sherri organized donations from the locals, set up a soccer field, printed Farsi to English dictionaries and distributed toys.
Despite the terrible circumstances and the horrors the refugees had been through, they were incredibly kind and hospitable to the three volunteers, who spent much of their time listening to the residents’ heartbreaking stories. They were especially grateful to be able to talk with someone who spoke Arabic (Dr. Saradar), and to be able to tell their stories to people who obviously cared so deeply about their plight.
Listening to the refugees’ tragic stories and seeing their living conditions was terribly upsetting to the Saradars and Sherri, who were frustrated that they couldn’t do much, much more for these people who had lost everything, including family members. But there were bright spots as well, such as playing with the children and teaching them to play the games they had purchased, including Connect Four and Jenga, and showing the teenagers how to use the Rubik’s Cube puzzles.
The mission was an unforgettable experience for all three of them. To learn more about it, and about the plight of the Syrian and Afghan refugees and what you can do to help, read Cherene’s detailed account of the trip on her blog. She also wrote about her trip in the Huffington Post.
Photos by Cherene Saradar. Used with permission.
Cherene, Dr. Saradar and Sherri organizing the mobile clinic bus at the Oinofyta camp
The Ritsona refugee camp
An Iraqi refugee named Adnan, who once helped American special forces, playing the musical instrument that Cherene and Sherri bought for him
Refugee children vying for the toys that Sherri and Cherene brought
Sherri and Cherene organizing gifts and supplies for each tent