Medical student made life a little better for Syrian refugees in Greece

Real-world experiences

Sara Rahman, a third-year student in our Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, volunteered last summer at a camp for Syrian refugees in Greece. She is shown here in the Shelton, Connecticut, internal medicine office of Dr. Suchith Shetty and Dr. John A. Farens, where she completed a clerkship.

S

ara Rahman knows what it’s like to stare hunger in the face.

The third-year medical student spent 10 days in Greece last summer volunteering at the Ritsona camp for Syrian refugees, an hour north of Athens. With scarce supplies and three modest meals distributed daily, it wasn’t uncommon for tensions to flare and for people, often hungry and desperate, to beg for more.

The camp provides food and shelter for roughly 600 refugees, most of whom fled their homes in Syria — a country that has endured almost six years of a civil war that has created the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The toughest part of the job, Rahman recalls, was looking them in the eyes and apologetically turning them away because of the strict rules regulating how supplies were rationed. Every family got a meal ticket that specified how many adults and children were entitled to provisions, and Rahman would mark the ticket to note that the family had received its provisions for that day. But it wasn’t a perfect system. Sometimes a refugee would show up with a card that appeared to be marked, but claiming they hadn’t gotten any food yet. Rahman would have to refuse them, unsure if there had been an honest mistake.

“To deny somebody food is absolutely horrible, especially if you don’t know whether they’re telling the truth,” the third-year medical student said. “Did someone steal their card? Will they go hungry today? Your ethnics are challenged. A lot of families would send their young kids to get supplies, and I’d have to say no if their tickets had been marked. It was heartbreaking.”