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#VolunteerDiaries: Emma

In May 2021, I spent a month volunteering as a doctor with Kitrinos Healthcare in Moria 2.0, a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. There are so many things to take away from this month that it is hard to know how to put it into a few simple paragraphs. I think often about the work, which was in equal measures challenging and rewarding. Of course the people I met and worked with were truly memorable; from the other doctors from all over the world, to the translators and admin staff, who had often experienced life in the camp first hand. But when I talk to my friends on the phone or try and describe the experience to my family there are two main things that stand out.

The first being the burden of mental health issues within the population that live in the camp. It shouldn’t have been surprising to me, knowing the difficult circumstances from which most of our patients had fled, and the trauma of their journeys up to this point, that mental illness would be common. However what did stand out to me was how close to the surface this distress really was.

Often, during a simple consultation about a physical ailment, it would become apparent that deep psychological trauma underpinned everything they were experiencing.

I will always remember one of our translators trying to communicate this suffering from a patient and simply saying ‘he says his brain hurts’, and on reflection realising that our clinic was probably one of the few places these people could share this inexplicable pain.

The second thing I often try to explain to people is that the camp never really felt like a sad place. Whilst doing night shifts during my time there I often watched the camp wake up as the sun rose, with the noise, commotion and activity of the day begin. This hustle and bustle atmosphere of a small town makes sense when you think about it, because the camp is people’s home and their community, often for a long time. And when I reflected on this further I realised this was the saddest thing; that this was the best option that these people had for a home.

- Dr. Emma, Kitrinos Healthcare volunteer, May 2021.

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