“Houston is a very widespread area, and almost every neighborhood we visited had piles of the remains of gutted houses on the lawn,” Abigail Kent ’19 said as she described the remains of Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
“Many people told us stories of wading through waist-deep water, which the sewage system broke into, with their children in their arms and returning days later to homes littered with their belongings that had been floating near the ceiling only a few days before.”
Interning with the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS) in the medical missions department in Washington, D.C., Kent recently experienced the devastation of Houston after Hurricane Harvey, while traveling with the organization for disaster relief.
“Our department organizes and facilitates medical missions to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to deliver primary and specialized care to Syrian refugees and underserved populations in these countries,” she explained. “I coordinate with the medical professionals to prepare them for these missions, ensure they are licensed and permitted to practice by the governments in these countries and provide any other necessary assistance for ongoing or future missions.”
When the opportunity arose for Kent to go to Texas, she was instantly eager to go.
“I knew that it would be an incredible opportunity to learn and serve the state that I love so dearly in a difficult time,” she said.
The trip to Texas was SAMS’ first domestic mission experience, so there were several days of planning and preparing once they arrived.
“We also contacted local community organizers to determine which communities were in the greatest need, in order to ensure we were able to assist them,” Kent added. “After this, we began medical clinics in communities that were affected by Harvey. For me, this meant taking in patients, handing out supplies and assisting the doctors and pharmacists with any other needs.”
Due to the water issues in Houston, Kent said many people had rashes all over their bodies, as well as respiratory infections from the mold growing in the homes. Through SAMS mobile medical unit, they were able to treat hundreds of patients over the course of their visit.
“I really enjoyed the constantly changing, often chaotic, environment of disaster relief, because it forced us all to solve problems quickly and effectively,” she said. “In the same way, the quiet moments of holding patients’ children and hearing their stories was powerful and transformative.”
Kent described how challenging it was to be in the environment Hurricane Harvey left behind, and how, at times, it was easy to feel helpless in the wake of disaster.
“While we were doing what we could to help medically, we could not provide for every need,” she said. “It was difficult to confront this, because I knew that in just a few short days, I would be returning to D.C., and the patients would still be struggling to restore normalcy to their lives.”
Volunteer doctors, who are veterans of medical missions, encouraged Kent to do two things: strive to help with the needs they were able to provide for in any way, and to view her time there as a starting point, a place to learn, grow and take forward what she discovered to a lifelong mission of service. Kent has always felt a calling to help the broken and downtrodden, and her experience in Houston reaffirmed it.
The time Kent spent in Texas was encouraging, and it taught her what loving people in practice really looks like.
“I was surrounded daily by individuals who are wholly devoted to serving others, such as the numerous volunteers from Texas, who had lost houses, cars and many personal belongings in the flooding that followed Harvey,” she explained. “They challenged themselves and others to continue to view life and humanity through a lens of service and compassion, despite their personal tribulations.
“One doctor volunteering with us put it best in saying, ‘Did we perform life-saving surgeries this week? No. Did we help these people to know that they are not alone and will never be alone in the midst of crisis? Yes. That is what is important,’” she concluded.
Photos are credited to Yara El Mowafy from the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation.
by Kerry Steinhofer
September 21, 2017