Student Looks Back on Enriching Refugee Trip

Photo courtesy of Adam Ayyad

After returning home from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Adam Ayyad was presented with an offer he could not refuse.

“I was praying that God would make me a better person and allow me to eventually do what I love to do. That’s helping people,” said Ayyad, sophomore biology major. “Once I got back, this door of opportunity opened to me to help the refugees in Greece…It was one of the most eye opening things I have ever seen.”

Violent conflicts and political unrest have compelled more than a million refugees to flee their homes in places such as Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan. These desolate people have made their way to European countries where they have found themselves in situations just as horrifying as their life they left behind. 

At a meeting hosted by the Muslim Student Association last week, Ayyad explained how he was a part of a small medical team that traveled to Greece for seven days where they provided medical aid, food and shelter to desperate refugees. Hearing from someone who experienced it first hand enabled students to grasp the reality of the situation.

“A personal experience is pretty moving because it’s unique to that one person and how that one person interpreted his experience with the refugees. It’s much different than reading about it,” said Samar Abulebda, senior law and society major. “Once a personal experience is told to you, it touches you on a deeper level than if you were to read about it in an article or just hear about it on TV.”

The refugee camps throughout Greece consist of tattered tents strung together to protect them from the blazing sun and unhygienic washrooms that have not been cleaned in six months. Refugees live in constant fear of being murdered or dying from starvation or dehydration.

“Every single day I would wake up and get a text message from the refugees saying that six to seven people died last night,” said Ayyad. 

Personal stories of the refugees left an imprint on Ayyad, prompting him to think about how grateful he is for living in a country where he has access to everything and anything.

“This is the one patient that I go to sleep every day and still remember. This is one patient that is always on my mind,” said Ayyad. “Her name is Lisette.”

Born with undeveloped eyes, Lisette’s father died when her mother was seven months pregnant. She and her mother went to a number of doctors to see if anything could be done about her blindness, but no one was able to understand that her retina was not ruptured. It wasn’t until Ayyad and his team crawled into their tiny tent and Lisette recognized Ayyad’s blue scrubs that the medics understood her situation. 

Ayyad and his team went with Lisette and her mother to visit several different doctors, but not much could be done there. The team hopes to bring her to America where she will be able to undergo a cornea transplant that will enable her to access at least 50 percent of her vision. 

Her story is one of many that Ayyad heard while in Greece that haunted him and kept him up at night. 

“For the total of seven days, I would be lying if I said I slept more than 10 hours. I would sit up all night, sometimes I would cry and then it would be morning. I’d have to go back for another 12 hours. It broke me down every single day,” said Ayyad.

Refugees spend their days walking along the highway begging for money or work. Back in the camps, children dug holes to keep busy or broke apart the few plastic toys they had only so that they could put it back together. 

It’s the psychological state of the refugees that worried the medical team the most. Ayyad reported that they went to a number of pharmacies in the surrounding areas, wiping them all out of their depression medications so that they can give them to refugees of all ages. 

“They have no one to talk to about their problems. Everyone there has equal or worse problems than they do. They had no one. They would come to us and tell us their stories. Those are the reasons why I wouldn’t be able to sleep,” said Ayyad. “It just kills you. It breaks you mentally and physically.” 

By casting a light on the humanitarian crisis sweeping across Europe, Ayyad inspired students to think about their responsibilities toward the refugees. 

“As citizens of the world, it is all of our jobs to make sure that everyone has what they need to survive. Not just what they need to survive but what they need to live a comfortable life,” said Jeyda Aydin, junior accounting major. “Everyone as a whole should come together and make sure that everyone is equal and has the same opportunity to succeed as everyone else. Just because they are refugees, they shouldn’t not have the same opportunities as everyone else.”