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Comox Valley doctor, woman helping to ease plight of Syrian refugees
More than two million Syrian refugees have fled their country, and over one million of those are children, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
A further four million people are displaced in Syria.
Of the fled refugees, about 80,000 are squished into Domiz Syrian Refugee Camp, which is in Iraq near the Syrian border. This camp is two kilometres square.
Comox doctor Saren Azer volunteered at the camp last October, and understands the need for medical supplies.
"It is very dire. The camp was originally built for 8,000 to 12,000 people," says Azer, noting about 40,000 were living at the camp when he was there. "Now, I've heard that that number has grown to about 80,000.
"So, 80,000 people are packed into two square kilometres — literally extremely crowded, really poor sanitation, pretty much no hygiene and a lack access to clean water.
"There is only one medical clinic that has one physician that works from 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) so literally there's barely any medical care, so dire, dire situation, and a large number of unnecessary deaths — malnutrition, infectious diseases, pneumonia, meningitis, gastroenteritis, illnesses are widely spread."
Azer's non-profit International Society for Peace and Human Rights (ISPHR) launched a Medical Hope for Syria campaign, which aims to raise $39,000 by the end of this month in the Comox Valley. This money would purchase, and pay for the shipping of, 50 Physician Travel Packs, which are suitcase-sized boxes that can treat up to 600 children and adults.
"That's enough to help 30,000 patients, so that's a huge amount of assistance," adds Comox Valley campaign volunteer Julie Angus, who is part Syrian and has family living in Syria.
Angus notes a philanthropist has offered to match any funds raised by ISPHR so if $39,000 were raised in the Valley, that would actually mean 100 Physician Travel Packs could be sent to the refugee camp.
"And because we're working with the charity Health Partners International, every dollar (raised) gets $10 worth of medical supplies, so it really is going a long way," she continues, noting the entire campaign is volunteer driven so every cent raised goes towards the cause.
"What we're trying to do is make positive change for the people who have been most affected by this war, which is the civilians," she says, noting her father moved from Syria to Canada when he was 20 and she has cousins, aunts and uncles living in Aleppo, Syria.
"They're in the middle of the war zone so they've witnessed horrible things," she explains, as she admits she worries about them. "The windows in their home have been shot out, there's major food shortages, there's no fresh water, there's no electricity, the kids haven't been in school for pretty much two years — it's the middle of a war zone. The terror that people in Syria are facing is, you know, beyond words in some cases."
Azer adds the refugees who leave Syria walk across the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and, according to the United Nations, about 5,000 to 6,000 Syrians do so every day, most of them women and children.
Last February, ISPHR sent 50 Physician Travel Packs to the Domiz Camp, and the medicine in those packs saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives, according to ISPHR's website. Azer recently heard the camp has run out of medical supplies, and "the graveyard at the camp is getting larger and larger," from camp medical workers.
Each pack costs $575 and contains nearly $6,000 of medicine and supplies. After purchasing the packs, ISPHR co-ordinates the delivery, ensuring the packs reach the camp's health centre.
ISPHR calls on community service clubs, businesses, schools, neighbourhoods, book clubs, churches, sports teams, organizations and individuals to join their fundraising efforts.
Organizations can contact Lynn Foster, ISPHR executive secretary, at email@example.com or 250-650-7763 to receive a fundraiser package or make a donation. Donations can also be sent to 162 Manor Pl., Comox, B.C. V9M 1C6. Donations are tax-deductible and should be made out to Health Partners International, Canada. More information is available at www.peaceandhumanrights.org.