12 May 2022
By: Olga Borzenkova

A Nurse in Syria: No Ordinary Calling

As a nurse, Obeid starts each day at 8am and attends to 10 to 15 patients by sunset. This may sound ordinary if it wouldn’t be for the extraordinary circumstances in which he works.

Obeid is not only a nurse by profession, but by also by vocation. He has no ordinary working days: he volunteers in a refugee camp in northwest Syria, where he currently lives with his wife and their seven children.

Originally from the city of Marat Al Numan, Idlib province, they were forced to flee after the escalation of the conflict and intense bombing in 2019.

Obeid has always been interested in humanitarian work. Money is not important to him—his mission is to help people, he says. At the age of 24, after graduating from high school, he joined the Red Crescent as a volunteer nurse and served until 2011.

The now 40-year-old nurse worked in small hospital, learning and absorbing knowledge from doctors each day. Just before the conflict broke out in 2011, he managed to complete his two-year nursing training at the city’s hospital.

Since then, he has chosen a life on the front line, helping injured people in mobile health clinics—in the streets or in shelled, semi-demolished buildings surrounded by debris and rubble.

“I moved my family to a safer village and returned to Marat Al Numan to continue helping people together with my colleagues. Once, a shelling hit the building where we were assisting those who were injured,” he recalls.

When it became too dangerous to stay in the city, he and his family moved to one of the camps for internally displaced people seeking refuge. The first thing that Obeid did there was to offer his medical expertise.

He immediately asked for available tools and medicine to treat people and a place where he could do that. Obeid wanted to get involved. He received all the necessary support and opened his small “clinic” in a tent. Very quickly, he gained the trust and respect of the community—which amounts to 380 families at the moment.

“Each day is different; people sometimes come to my tent at 3am asking for help, and I always help them. What needs to be done, usually needs to be done right away. Plus, if I can help people, I feel happy and satisfied,” shares Obeid.

Even though his job is often tiring and he doesn’t have normal working hours and there is no one else to help him with the clinic, it remains his main source of inspiration and motivation.

Yet, Obeid’s path has not been easy. To make things happen and help people, he finds a way to work with limited resources and in challenging conditions. He doesn’t have enough medicine and tools and his provisional tent is not robust enough to protect patients from the summer’s scorching sun and the winter’s freezing cold.

Nevertheless, Obeid makes things work.

On top of these limitations, he needs to work around his own struggles of living with a disability on his left leg, which often makes it difficult to walk. This  was particularly difficult at the beginning of his stay, when the camp lacked proper infrastructure: no roads; a lot of mud; no appropriate sanitary systems; challenging access to water.

Obeid says that because of the mud and absence of proper drainage systems, it was hard for him to move around the camp, and there was a high risk of falls and injuries for people with disabilities and children, while lack of proper sanitary systems could have easily led to leishmaniasis cases in the camp.

But luckily, with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its partners, the camp’s infrastructure has been significantly improved. The camp is now equipped with multiple water tanks, drainage system, lighting fixtures, solar panels, sinks and bathrooms, making the quality of life of Obeid and the rest of the camp residents better, and his work more manageable.

IOM’s country office in Turkey and its implementing partners coordinate the sectorial assistance for internally displaced people in northwest Syria. They work together with clusters and various service providers to ensure dignified living conditions for people across 11 planned camps, through innovative solutions, infrastructure improvement, governance support, community engagement activities, and cash grants for families just like Obeid’s.

Obeid knows that being a nurse goes beyond physically taking care of patients as it is about their emotional health too. He once had a patient who had lost his leg and would refuse to accept this new realty. 

“Every time he came to me to change his bandages, I explained to him that it was not the end of the world. After some time, I was happy to see him walking with a prosthetic leg and smiling. It was one of my biggest achievements.”

“All the camp residents respect Obeid,” says Basel Dakhel, Project Manager with ATAA, IOM’s implementing partner. Obeid is also a member of the camp’s health committee, and besides running his own medical clinic, he coordinates the distribution of vaccines for scabies, leishmaniasis, and other diseases, Basel explains.

Despite all the hardships in the camp, Obeid could not have imagined a different path for himself. When things are tough, he leans on his family for support. His wife is his biggest fan as she knows that this is Obeid’s calling, while his children—despite the luxuries they might lack—see their father as a hero.

Obeid hopes that one day he will have more opportunities to provide for his family as he has so far been relying solely on IOM’s cash grant programme and sporadic financial support from his brothers and parents living in cities nearby. “I hope life will pay me back for the help that I provide, and that I too will one day be helped in return.”

Today, Obeid’s only wish is to have a small building to run his clinic and more medicines and tools to help people more and better. As for his children, he hopes that they will all have bright futures. “I would be happy if my children continued their education and maybe became better doctors than I am one day.”

These activities are funded by the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF).
Text by Olga Borzenkova, IOM Communications Officer in Gaziantep, Turkey; Photos by IOM Turkey