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  • Monsoon Season Arrives in Bangladesh

    by Tyler Graf | May 24, 2018


    Bangladesh response, family in settlement, 2017
    Monsoon rains will threaten Bangladesh this summer, making life even more difficult for refugees seeking sanctuary from oppression and violence. 

    In the Kutupalong refugee camp, off the southern coast of Bangladesh, a light sprinkling of May rain is a foreboding expression of what lies ahead. For Rohingya refugees living in one of the largest and most disaster-prone camps in the world, it’s a sign of danger to come.

    The camp sprawls like a city into the horizon. But this is no ordinary city. Imagine a slum metropolis the size of Baltimore, which arose out of nothing practically overnight. It's now home to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

    The Rohingya refugees who live in the camp reside in flimsy structures. The homes speckling the landscape were constructed quickly out of tarps and bamboo. The dirt and deforested landscape is a rolling series of hills, with homes both perched directly on the hillsides and on the valley floor.

    When heavy rains wash over the hillsides, the earth will slip forward, destroying shelters, consuming the residents, and flooding the valleys below. The monsoons will severely limit people’s ability to move. 

    Bangladesh, overhead shots camp, 2018 (6)

    Deforestation and low-lying homes will pose significant challenges once heavy rains arrive in Bangladesh this summer.

    Health workers fear the months-long monsoon and cyclone season will bring destructive landslides, flooding, and disease outbreaks. Heavy rains typically begin in April and peak in July. Cyclones tend to lash Bangladesh in early spring and late fall.

    Fatema and Her 8 Children Prepare for the Worst

    One of the refugees in danger is Fatema, a mother of eight who’s lived in the camp for the past seven months. She and her family escaped Myanmar last year during a surge in violence. Fatema is extremely concerned about the upcoming monsoon season.

    “We are very worried. We don’t have enough tarps. I don’t know what we‘ll do. I don’t think this house is safe,” she said, seated inside her extremely modest bamboo home. “My house in Myanmar was safe. But what if this one slides down the hill? We are concerned about food. How will we get food to eat when the rains come?”

    Bangladesh, Redwan and Fatema, 2018 (1)

    Fatema, left, listens to Redwan, a Medical Teams International community health worker.

    Life in the camp is uncertain. When Fatema and her family first arrived, her husband had jaundice and her children were sick. They sought treatment and fully recovered. But fear lingers. What will happen if they’re sick and can’t reach the clinic?

    Infectious diseases are likely to increase during the rains, as damaged or destroyed shelters will result in wet and cold sleeping conditions. Sanitation is expected to significantly deteriorate. Latrines are at risk of overflowing and those constructed on hills could be washed away by rains or landslides. Meanwhile, water contamination and reduced access to drinking water are likely to worsen.

    Before the Storms Hit

    Medical Teams International, in partnership with Food for the Hungry, is working closely with UN programs to safeguard refugees from the ravages of the monsoon season. While many crises are unpredictable, this one is not. We are taking steps to prepare mobile medical units to treat isolated patients and provide life-saving care, public health services, and medicine. With your support, these mobile medical units will have the power to save thousands of lives.

    “This is the biggest refugee crisis (right now) because of the vulnerability,” said Frank Tyler, Medical Teams’ humanitarian health advisor. “Access in the camp could be wiped out.”

    You can help mobilize up to five mobile medical units that will bring life-saving, immediate medical care to isolated families. “Our clinics will most likely be flooded,” Tyler added. “If we see anything more than a category 2 cyclone, they will be completely wiped out.”

    That’s why planning is key: Even if storms wipe out the clinics, mobile medical units will enable doctors to go to where patients need them.

    bangladesh rohingya monsoon preparations

    Teams have been preparing for heavy rains for months -- fortifying the space around clinics in order to prevent flooding. 

    Planning will prevent deaths and keep people like Fatema and her family safe. It took them five agonizing days to reach the border of Bangladesh. Stripped of her dignity after living through unspeakable trauma, she arrived in the refugee camp with no possessions. Over the months, she's worked to provide for her family. After all she's encountered and survived -- persecution, crisis, and violence -- we cannot allow her or her family to succumb to sickness. 

    The next few months will be a trying time. But through your support and prayers, the Rohingya people can persevere.

    Your support is urgently needed. Save a life, give today.
  • Mothers Who Hold On To Hope

    by Tyler Graf | May 10, 2018


    But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. 
    Isaiah 40:31

    Mothers are an indelible force. It's often said that they have the hardest job in the world -- creating and nurturing new life. For many of us, our mothers shield us during our most vulnerable periods, shape us emotionally during our formative years. They do not do it for pay, or for accolades. They do it out of love. 

    On this Mother's Day, we want to highlight new mothers and mothers-to-be who hold on to hope despite suffering the impacts of war. Despite how broken the world can seem sometimes, life marches on. These mothers, through no fault of their own, are caught in the crosshairs of conflict. Many have lost their own mothers or other family members and feel lost and alone. 

    No mother should feel alone on Mother's Day. The holiday started more than 100 years ago with the philosophy that a "mother did more for you than anyone else."  This presents a question: What can we do for the mothers of the world?

    Congolese mothers in their own words

    Mama Janine

    Uganda, Janine - DRC response, 2018 (1)

    My name is Janine and yesterday I gave birth to my daughter Janti in the Medical Teams International tent here in the refugee transit center. We ran from the Democratic Republic of the Congo a week ago because of the war. We heard many bullets and saw people being hurt by them.

    We left at 6 a.m. in the morning and walked until that evening to come to Uganda. I have a 5-year-old daughter and her dad carried her for me. I felt a lot of pain in my heart as we left Congo. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. I still don’t know where my mother is, as we ran as fast as we could and everyone went different ways. Moving on foot for a day at nine months pregnant was uncomfortable.

    We’d been in the camp for a few days when I woke up in the morning with abdominal pains and after two hours decided to go to the Medical Teams International clinic. I delivered within minutes of arriving there. The staff treated me well and were good to me. My baby seems to be vomiting up the milk I give her so I’m going to the clinic soon to see if they can help me work out what the problem is.

    Mama Myombi

    Uganda, Myombi - DRC response, 2018 (1)

    My name is Myombi and I am 18 years old and 38 weeks pregnant with my first child. We spent two days walking here. I had to take many rests so I could make it. We came because of the fighting. There was no time to pack. Bullets were flying. I came with my neighbors and I have no idea where my family is. My husband ran in a different direction. I hope he will find us, but I don’t know if he will. As long as I deliver a healthy baby, I will be happy.

    Mama Manashimwe

    Uganda, Manashimwe and Adele - DRC response, 2018

    My 1-year-old daughter is sick. She’s had ongoing diarrhea and she’s coughing a lot. We came to Uganda as refugees from Congo. The rebels had started ambushing families and killing massive amounts of people. My husband went one direction,and I fled with our six children in the other. We’ve lost our phones and can’t contact each other. I pray he will find his way to this place. I came with some neighbors and I feel safe being here in Uganda. This is my first time to the Medical Teams International clinic to see the doctor. My name is Manashimwe I am 33 years old.

    On this Mother's Day, know that your love is reaching hurting mothers around the world. Life-saving medical care -- the kind you support -- transforms vulnerability into stability. It helps to restore wholeness in two generations -- mother and child. Take a bold stance this Mother's Day and consider making a donation to support a mother in need.

  • The Women of Nayapara

    by Jenny Stoecker | May 01, 2018

    Asking the Question

    I was nervous as we approached their tent. “If they don’t want to share it’s okay,” I told my translator, Muraad, for the third time. Who was I to ask them to share their story? “I know,” he said, “we’ll just ask and see.”

    We greeted Begum and were invited inside. I took my muddied boots off at the tent opening and sat cross-legged on the mat they laid over the dirt floor. Three more women appeared from the back room and another walked in the door behind us. "Okay," I smiled at Begum, "Muraad will you tell her that we'd like to share her story, so that people know what's happening here. Ask her if she's willing...only if she's willing!"

    He started translating and before finishing a sentence three of the women started speaking at once, waving their hands in the air. "What's happening," I asked? "They all want to share," he said, trying to keep up as they spoke over each other each other. They told us their story of leaving Myanmar and their new life in Bangladesh. For two hours I listened to all they endured and all they overcame.

    Women (1)
    From Left to Right: Feroja (sister-in-law), Begum, Aisha, Fatima, Rashida. On my first two visits their fourth sister was out running errands.

    The Women's Story

    “We were cooking lunch when saw the smoke and heard the gunshots.” The Burmese army was coming. Begum, her five daughters, two grandchildren, two son-in-laws, and her entire village dropped everything and ran. They didn’t know where they were running, but they all knew what the consequences would be if they stopped. In the chaos of one hundred and fifty people from their village fleeing, Begum’s daughters, Fatima and Rashida, watched in horror as soldiers snatched their husbands from the crowd and slit their throats. The women kept running. “If they caught us they would have taken us into the mountains to rape us and then kill us.”

    Finally, the army fell away and the women made it to another Muslim village. They took stock and realized Hacina, Begum’s youngest daughter, was missing. Immediately Begum wanted to go back to find her, but her neighbors wouldn’t hear of it. “The army will burn you alive if you return.” She was persistent until community members came to tell her what happened. Hacina had fallen behind her family while running and the army seized her.

    Begum was distraught, mourning along with her daughters as the reality of the day continued to sink in. Her eldest daughter and son-in-law had recently visited to drop their eight-year-old son off for few days with Grandma. On their return trip, they would have almost certainly crossed the path of the army. Begum’s son, Kamal, and one of her son-in-laws were at work when the family fled. Both were assumed dead.

    In one day, they lost six family members.

    Begum and her four remaining daughters and two grandchildren spent three days in the village, where they were fed and clothed by the kindness of strangers. After three days the entire village decided to leave, sensing it was unsafe to remain where they were. Begum headed toward Bangladesh in mourning.

    On the four-day journey, they passed Muslim villages that offered them bananas and water, anything they could to keep the travelers going. When Begum arrived at the Naf River, another family graciously paid for all seven of them to cross into Bangladesh. The rain soaked their clothes as they, along with 25 others, braved the three-hour midnight journey by boat. They arrived in Bangladesh and were taken into a mosque to eat and get warm before moving into Nayapara Camp. In the camp, Begum was reunited with her sister, Feroja, who had also fled. Together, the six women began a new life.

    Kamal

    Kamal's Story

    It had been a normal day at work, carrying goods from place to place for whoever needed it.

    But, when Kamal came back to his village he was met with the burnt remains of his home. The army, still there, accused him of coming around to steal anything that was left, so they tied him up and beat him brutally. A Burmese man finally convinced the army that the village was Kamal’s home and he wasn’t coming to steal anything. Feeble from the beating, the army let him go to search for his family.

    He started wandering, trying to determine where his family might have gone, when he was captured by another army group.

    This troop showed no mercy. They stripped him naked, peeled back his fingernails and electrocuted him. When they grew tired of the torture and the beatings they lined Kamal and fellow hostages up along the river to be killed. A machete poised to cut off his head, Kamal knew this was his last chance – with the strength he had left he kicked his captor and jumped into the river below. He swam thirty minutes downstream until he spotted a Muslim family who was also escaping. They clothed him and brought him across the border – paying for his spot in the boat required to cross the river to get to Bangladesh.

    An imam, a Muslim religious leader, at the border recognized how weak he was and immediately got him to a hospital.

    Begum was shocked the day she heard her son’s name over a loudspeaker roaming about camp – broadcasting names of people alone in the hospital trying to find their family. When she was reunited with him, the entire family was screaming and crying, first out of joy and then out of concern. Kamal was incredibly weak, a shell of who he had been the last time they saw him. But, they were back together again.

    Sisters

    My Visits

    The first time I met Kamal he was laying on straw mat beside me, moaning intermittently as the women shared his story. Doctors had assured Begum he would make a full physical recovery and the women were amazed by how much he had improved from when they first found him. On my second visit, Kamal was walking, but on his way to the hospital to be treated for residual injuries. The women told me he had never been the same and they suspected brain damage on top of the trauma he endured.

    I left Bangladesh for two weeks, taking a short trip to the U.S. for meetings. While home, I printed photos of each of the families I visited, so I could deliver them when I went back. I wrote up Begum’s story and ended it on a hopeful note, one where the family was together again and felt safe in the camp, no longer oppressed in Myanmar.

    Then, my first week back in Bangladesh, I received news that Kamal had died.

    I went back to the camp to visit Begum that week, unsure of what I’d say or find. The women invited me in and I sat across from Begum – in the three weeks since I had seen her, it looked like she had lost all fight. I didn’t have the words, so after a few awkward sentences I passed her the printed photos. She paused on the photo of her son and held it tighter than the rest. I gave my condolences and left.

    Two weeks later I visited again. She spoke more this time and cried when I asked how she was doing. She voiced her fears ­­– they sold their rations again this month to bury Kamal. None of the five women in the house can read or write. A man's family came to see her daughter, to see if she was marriage material – marriage is now their only hope. If Begum can provide 20,000 taka ($240) for a dowry, then it will be agreed, but neither she nor I knew where she could get that kind of money.

    I left knowing that I could not write a hopeful ending to this story; I cannot tie it up in a nice bow, because it’s more than a story, it is these women’s reality. More than that it is the reality of the Rohingya – each person that fled has been touched by violence and loss. There is no escaping it.

    My hope would be that you read this story and do something. I have talked to so many people since being home who don’t know about this crisis. So share: tell people about the injustice affecting the Rohingya. And give. These camps consist of over 670,000 people that left with nothing. Your money can make a difference. Give because we can’t sit by and do nothing.  

    Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner said, “Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” Amen.

  • Life or Death for Congolese Refugees

    by Tyler Graf | Apr 28, 2018


    Uganda, sanitation screening - DRC response, 2018 (7)
    Medical Teams International provides health screenings for Congolese refugees seeking safety in western Uganda.

    Uganda is home to a silent crisis.

    You won't read many headlines about the refugee mother forced to trudge down dirt paths for a week with her child clinging to her back. But everyday, tired and sick refugees pour across Uganda's borders, their lives uprooted by spurts of raging violence back home. 

    In this unstable environment, swift action must meet urgent needs.  

    In Uganda, amid the silent refugee crisis, the United Nations recently called upon Medical Teams International to stamp out one the world’s deadliest and most resilient diseases. Cholera was quickly spreading among the newly arrived refugees.

    Andrew Hoskins, Medical Teams International’s Country Director for Uganda, hadn’t even eaten breakfast when he received an urgent call from the UN’s refugee agency. Health conditions in western Uganda had deteriorated because of the overwhelming number of refugees crossing the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

    Hundreds of newly arrived refugees were suffering from severe diarrhea. When the call came in mid-February, nearly 42,000 Congolese refugees had crossed the border into Uganda since the beginning of the year, creating a new crisis in the country’s western border districts.  

    “I was out of town and said, ‘Let me make a few calls and get back to you,’” Hoskins recalled of his brief conversation with the UN.

    By 8 a.m., Hoskins had mobilized a team of 11 health workers to drive five hours to the Kyangwali Settlement on the shores of Lake Albert, where thousands of refugees from the DRC were coming to shore.

    The Medical Teams group arrived that evening and immediately went to work, using flashlights as they set up their operation, quickly moving vehicles, medicines, generators, and equipment.

    Medical Teams staff performed health screenings and found safe drinking water. Along with partners, we helped train 156 community health workers to support the response.

    Less than a week later, the breadth of the crisis came into focus. Before Medical Teams arrived, there had been at least 1,000 cases of cholera in the district in one week, including 28 deaths, according to the UN’s refugee agency. The number of deaths was two times the UN’s acceptable threshold, signifying that the crisis could deteriorate further without quick action.

    Just a couple of days later the number of deaths dropped to zero. “We were only able to do this because of our highly trained staff who had been put on stand-by and were ready to move in immediately,” Hoskins said.

    The response had quashed the spread of cholera, one of the fastest-moving and deadliest infectious diseases among deeply vulnerable groups. Each year, cholera infects between 3 and 5 million people worldwide.

    "In an event like this, where there’s no (existing) infrastructure or support, a disease like cholera is a huge health risk for the refugees, the local community, and the entire country,” Hoskins said.

    Uganda, DRC refugees at the transit center, 2018 (10)
    In cramped living conditions, cholera can spread quickly.

    Controlling the spread of cholera has been just one of Medical Teams’ recent efforts to protect the growing number of Congolese refugees. In the days leading up to Christmas, the UN first called Medical Teams to request that we bring our expertise to treat the influx. Doctors and nurses worked tirelessly through the holidays to serve families who had lost everything back home.

    Medical Teams International provides medical and nutrition screening to new arrivals in southwest Uganda and has expanded into two new settlements. At these new settlements, Medical Teams supports two cholera treatment units and two clinics.

    “It is important that we handle these outbreaks in a timely fashion so countries like Uganda can continue being hospitable,” Hoskins said. “It’s a testament to our capacity that we were called.”

    You, our faithful donors, make this work possible.

    Since the end of 2017, refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have spilled across the Ugandan border, displaced by a surge in violent conflict and tensions. You're providing loving health care to those who are displaced. 

  • Do You Agree?

    by Lindsay Sullivan | Apr 02, 2018

    When you hear a word often enough, it can begin to lose its weight.

    Refugee. Famine. War.

    You hear these words over and over in the news. You’re inundated with information. Overwhelmed by statistics and the magnitude of pain in the world. You can become numb to the suffering.

    For more than seven years, you’ve heard about bloodshed in Syria. Other conflicts are drowned out by the local news of the day. Like the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The civil war in South Sudan. Or the renewed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    There is a lot of suffering in our broken world. And it’s easy to think that your actions are insignificant.

    But they’re not. Your actions matter. You matter. To real people in difficult places.

    blog_bangladesh

    You matter to Anora.
    She ran from her burning village in Myanmar, carrying her only son. When they arrived in Bangladesh, her son became weak with hunger. His bones protruded through his skin. Your support trained refugee volunteers to reach out to their sick neighbors. It was one of these volunteers who found Anora’s son and carried him to a Medical Teams clinic. There, the doctor gave him life-saving nutritional supplements. You spared Anora the heartbreak of losing her son.

    blog_uganda

    You matter to Diana.
    Raped and left for dead in South Sudan, Diana managed to get to a refugee settlement in Uganda. Now she suffers from depression and PTSD. The things that once gave her joy now trigger her PTSD. Thanks to you, a Medical Teams mental health professional visits Diana each week. Diana was feeling alone and scared but now she has support and care.

    blog_lebanon

    You matter to Maha.
    In Syria, Maha had completed high school and dreamed of going to college. She had to flee when ISIS occupied her home. Violence turned her life upside down. But now she finds fulfillment in something else–caring for her neighbors. Medical Teams trained Maha to care for other refugees in her community with illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. Now Maha has a new dream–to become a nurse.

    I’m going to make a guess. I bet if you’re reading this blog post, you believe every person–no matter where they are or how desperate their circumstance–matters. You care about hurting mothers and children you may never meet. They matter to you. And you matter to them.

    I hope the next time you hear the word “refugee” you think of Anora, Diana, and Maha. I hope you know that you are touching real lives.

    Through your actions, you’re letting suffering people know that they are loved. You’re reassuring them that they are not alone. You’re showing them they matter.

    You can provide life-saving medical care for refugees. Please give today.