Pictured: A group of 12 students in the School of Health Professions traveled to Greece on a medical outreach program to work with refugees.
From July 12 to 22, 12 students in NYIT School of Health Professions traveled to Greece on a medical outreach program to work with refugees.
The trip was somewhat spur of the moment. “I was talking about my experience working with refugees to my students in my chemistry class, and many showed interest in joining me,” said Laura Friedland, senior specialist in the School of Health Professions. Within two months, the group was off to Athens accompanied by Assistant Professors of Nursing Jessica Varghese and Mercy Joseph.
During their stay, the students had the opportunity to spend time with the refugees and their children.
“When Professor Friedland introduced this trip, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said occupational therapy student Sayyada Dweji. “Volunteering on a global scale is a service that I’ve always found to be of great importance. We have been blessed to be born into such stable lives that it’s easy to forget about the difficulties that others face across the globe.”
The program, with a goal of offering basic medical services, included workshops for first aid, family planning, and art therapy. The group also gave English lessons, took the families grocery shopping, distributed more than 60 first aid kits, and ran STEAMM (science, technology, engineering, art, math, and mindfulness) programs for the children. “The refugees were so grateful for all the medical supplies, clothes, and shoes we donated, and appreciated the time we spent with them,” said nursing student Andrea Rouse.
The students worked with refugees from countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa and visited a Kurdish camp in Lavrio. “The majority of the refugees fled their country to escape war, ISIS, and the Taliban,” explained Friedland.They also educated the refugees on prenatal care, breastfeeding, proper nutrition, and hand hygiene. “As a nurse, I will be doing a lot of patient teaching, and I felt so comfortable even though there was a language barrier,” said Rouse, who is entering her fourth year. “Upon graduation, I hope to start working as a full-time nurse and will fulfill my responsibilities with love, compassion, mercy, joy, faith, and hope.”
The students educated the refugees on proper nutrition, hand hygiene, prenatal care, and breastfeeding.
The trip was organized in partnership with Love Without Borders, Be Bolder Strategic Communications, Cribs International, and the STEAMM Initiative: For Refugees in Need, founded by Friedland.
“We are always told to donate. Whether it be money, clothing, food, etc., but one of the biggest things I learned is the best thing a person can give is their time,” said Dewji. “Money, clothing, and everything else is important, but that simply isn’t enough. It’s a different feeling for the giver and the receiver when something is shipped in a box over being delivered in person.”
The students witnessed this firsthand and experienced something unexpected. “The refugees were more welcoming and more hospitable than I could have imagined,” said Elena Fischer, a student in the life sciences/physician assistant studies program. “These people, who have limited supplies for themselves and their children, were offering us everything they had. They gave us hot tea, orange soda drinks, and fruit. I was amazed.”
During their visit, the students befriended the refugees, some of whom played music and sang songs for the students.
The children took part in art therapy workshops led by students in the School of Health Professions.
The trip was life-changing for many and showed them a side of their future professions they may not have thought about. “As an occupational therapy student, I want to use my [professional skills] to aid refugees and those who do not have access to health care,” said Dewji. “I see a role that occupational therapists can play in giving aid to those who need help adapting to their current living conditions.”
Even before the plane landed in New York, the students were planning their next trip. “I would love to go on more service learning trips like this one,” said Fischer. “I feel like we made a difference in some of their lives and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.”