Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thank you very much for taking the time to stop by and learn more about the displaced people of Syria and how the Syrian American Medical Society is saving lives.

Though I have more to write you'll find posts of some of my visits with Syrian refugees in Amman and at Zaatari refugee camp on the north on the Syrian border. These people are like you and me. They have very few material things but are happy for their lives and those that have survived with them. For most - despite having experienced the unthinkable - their spirits are undeterred and their love unbridled.

Join me in making a small difference in someone's life. Together we can do so much!

How can you help?  Do you have medical supplies and equipment to donate? Do you wish to make a monetary contribution? Donate Legos for children? 
Contact me at any time:; 413.323.0333

I look forward to hearing from you and learning how you can help.  Many drops in the bucket make it full!

Gina Panzieri in collaboration with the Syrian American Medical Society  -

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Arterial blood gas analyzers desperately needed

Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)  - Is in desperate need of Arterial blood gas analyzers to treat patients in field hospitals. Donations so gratefully accepted. Please contact me as soon as possible! THANK YOU for making a difference!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Syrian American Medical Society - Save Syrian Lives Campaign

A way to make a positive difference: SSLC is a new national and global campaign in order to assess, organize and coordinate access, donations and distribution of medical supplies, equipment and medications to areas in need inside Syria and at the borders with neighboring countries.

Sad sad...Homs father hugs injured baby

: In Homs,a father hugs his injured baby after doctors told him they can't save his life 

Assad forces killed 3 refugees just as they had crossed into Jordan

Today Assad forces killed 3 refugees just as they had crossed into Jordan. One of them --> a 7-month-old baby.  

Life in Syrian refugee camps - As reported by Aljazeera

On Tuesday, December 4 at 19:30 GMT / 2:30 EST: 

The conflict in Syria, now in its 20th month, has forced an estimated 465,000 Syrians to flee their homeland, according to the United Nations. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expects the number of refugees to reach 700,000 by January, and aid organizations warn that the humanitarian crisis will deepen as temperatures plunge during the winter months. 

What is life like in the refugee camps? We'll pose your questions to Syrians displaced by the conflict who are currently living in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Record a 30-second video comment or leave a comment below.

Read more: 
The human cost of Syria's war (Al Jazeera
Cold Ravages Syria Refugees as Aid Falters (The New York Times)

Friday, November 30, 2012

11.28.12 Video showing Assad's forces breaking into field hospital

Video showing Assad’s soldiers breaking into a field hospital. 

Watch their treatment of seriously injured people and how they are trying to extract the name of the treating physician because trying to save people is a crime.

11.28.12 Olive Tree Refugee Camp

“Thousands have become stuck along the Syrian-Turkish border in recent weeks as Turkey has been restricting entries until the government can build more camps, creating a  growing human logjam” ~ Los Angeles Times

We met with a brave woman who works with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and  IHH Foundation (Insani Yardin Vakfi - Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief Foundation) assisting refugees on the Turkey/Syrian border and raising money to support this work.  She has family in Homs still so she asked us not to use her name for their safety.

Given the very difficult circumstances of Syrian refugees the IHH Foundation is conducting many relief activities on the borders.

In particular, she has been instrumental in establishing the The Olive Tree Refugee Camp through IHH Foundation. Olive Tree Refugee Camp provides temporary asylum to Syrian refugees stranded between the Syrian and Turkish borders. These refugees can not enter into Turkey due to overcrowding nor can they return safely into Syria. The camp will provide relief to refugees that are victims of abuse and war.

Olive Tree Refugee Camp is the first refugee camp located on liberated Syrian grounds near the Syrian/Turkish border. It is secured by the Free Syrian Army and is conflict-free. Regime interference has not been reported in or around the campsite area in over a year.

It has a health center that is open 24/7, a Community Center and an Educational Center/School.

he Health Center has a short list of essential drugs, which are chosen because of their affordability and effectiveness in treating the main diseases the refugees could be afflicted with, an ambulance, attending physician available around the clock, primary care and minimally invasive procedures and has these targeted specialties: Gynecology, pediatrics, internal  medicine and psychiatry.

The Community Center has internet access, a media room for socializing, a prayer room and a meeting room where leaders among the refugees gather to discuss issues affecting the camp.

The School/Education Center has certified teachers that are refugees of war and volunteered teachers from assisting and neighboring countries, an elementary school curriculum, school supplies and an outdoor playground.

The Turkish government generously donated electrical transformers and clean water.
Winter is approaching so they are working on securing blankets and warm clothes.

For more information here's IHH's contact details:

Nalan Dal
Institutional Partership Coordinator
IHH-Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Turkey
Phone: 90.212.6312121 x265

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

11.27.12 Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp

The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” ― Ben Okri

Just outside Amman on the road to Zaatari. 37 miles to the Syrian border.

We are approaching Zaatari on the right. Couldn't take pictures of the entrance for security reasons.

The main street into the camp and running the length of it now has many vendors selling goods. When the camp was first opened, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided two meals a day to residents - breakfast and dinner. Some of the food started to go bad and created intestinal issues so UNHCR stopped the meal services and instead provided boxes of dried and canned goods. And gave them small gas stoves. But vegetables and fruit weren't provided. So the residents contacted relatives in the small town outside the camp and asked them to bring in fresh vegetables and fruit and cigarettes. The shops were born out of basic need.  

The camp is broken up in a grid with a main street running down the center. At present there are 21 streets on the right side of the main road and 20 streets on the left.  Each street has a 'manager' that helps families on his/her street.

The Norwegian Refugee Council which has 60 staff members working in Zaatari estimates that there's currently close to 45,000 Syrian residents. UNICEF has a count of 42,000 but you get the idea. 1/2 are children and 65% are under 18. Being as there are so many children UNICEF and Save The Children are very active with huge, visible tents where they conduct programs.

UNICEF and Save The Children tent with event presented by Physicians Across Continents (PAC)

I had great respect for how UNICEF and Save the Children protected children during the PAC presentation. They didn't allow any children's face to be photographed. Physicians and representatives from a number of organizations spoke for a special filming by a crew from Ad Dustour (Jordanian media).  Unfortunately the UNICEF and Save the Children managers were not happy with how the toys were laid out in three sections of the tent.  Just days before they saw how a delivery of toys was nearly destroyed by hundreds of out of control children (who have nothing) trying to grab as many as they could. These two organizations only allow toys to be handed out one at a time to teach the kids that only patient and orderly waiting will result in toys.   

I kid you not, bedlum broke out as soon as the filming was over. Children ran to the toys, grabbing up as much as they could and pushing other kids out of the way. All of us adults pitched in to try to bring some semblance of order. We took toys away from children who had arms full and escorted them out of the tent. Primarily the men in the group set themselves up at the opening of the tent to hold back the throngs of newly arrived children who were pushing there way into the tent.  It took us all about a half hour to empty the tent of children, keep any from entering and strap up the closing.  Once that was done we bagged up the toys in large plastic bags and removed them from the tent and then reopened the tent flap opening. 

Here's Nick securing the flap of the UNICEF/Save the Children tent after all kids were removed - forceably or otherwise.

The Saudi National Campaign to Support Brothers in Syria established this waiting tent, clinic and are developing a full hospital in Zaatari. The Amman-Jordan Hospital is running the healthcare facilities for them.

This is the waiting tent. Behind the tent are three medical clinics.

Emman M. Khader (left) was instrumental in showing us around Zaatari and explaining the medical services in particular. She is a strong, sweet lady.

Aboud Doujan Owaisat is one of the medical services coordinators.

Sister nurses!

Children playing. It was so refreshing to see children smiling and playing despite the unfair burdens they are coping with. Moments of forgetting their horrors.

These children were following us after we gave them treats. They rushed back to us and held my hand. They were so grateful for a little treat. Such sweet, beautiful children...

This is Mohammad Sukkar, a Syrian refugee himself who volunteers with the Syrian American Medical Society's office in Amman, Jordan. Imagine that. He can't work in Jordan. He can't go to school in Jordan. So he volunteers his time for his fellow Syrians. I so admire he and his cousin, Abdulaziz. They give of themselves despite having lost so much - their homes, their schooling, family members, etc.

Nick looking down the street of endless UNHCR tents.

The security official that let us into Zaatari took our passes and didn't give them back. That created quite the delay when we attempted to leave the camp to head back to Amman.  Our two guides are Syrian refugees and because our passes were erroneously held by the guard upon entering we had to find officials to prove that Abdulaziz and Mohammad were not camp residents and had permission to enter and then leave. Took over a half hour. I was worried beyond worried for my two friends. In the end the Islamic Relief officials vouched for them and we were allowed to leave.

I'm not sure this picture is clear enough but what it is portraying is a line of Syrians who didn't find life in Zaatari palatable so they are heading back to the war zone that is Syria. Unbelievable.

11.26.12 One of many amazing heroes

Dr. Mohammad Nasser joined us at the SAMS office in the morning. We reviewed the contents of the surgical kit luggage and the sutures so he could determine what he wanted to hand carry into Syria.  He is crossing over to the war zone to deliver medical supplies and to treat wounded. I don’t know too many people that would do such a thing.   The heroes and heroines of this saga are strikingly amazing.

Dr. Mohammad Nasser and Mr. Jamal Iqtish review the packing list and contents of a surgical kit we transported to Jordan.

Hasna'a (right) joins in the review of medical supplies. 

Mr. Jamal Iqtish gives the thumbs up. Dr. Nasser closes the luggage and heads to Syria. God watch over him and all who are helping the wounded. 

11.25.12 Visited two Syrian families after Nadia

After visiting with darling Nadia, we went back to the ghetto section of Damascus (the former Palestinian refugee camp) to visit two more families. 

Down another alley we went, entering the home of a family from the district of Babsbaa of Homs.  

Upon entering we saw an older woman sitting up against pillows on the floor mattress.  She looked very, very sad. Her husband told us her story as he looked at her lovingly. 

One day about 1,500 regime soldiers came into their district with tanks and snipers. There was no provocation before the soldiers arrived. Tanks drove right up in front of their house. The soldiers started looting homes and destroying everything they couldn’t take. They separated the men from the women. They stripped her son naked, covered his head and then started savagely beating him.  Right there in front of everyone.  They brought him to his knees and demanded that he say that Bashar Al- Assad was is his God. She was so horrified at what she saw and couldn’t stop and collapsed, having had a heart attack and stroke simultaneously.  She survived but the stroke did damage, leaving the right side of her body paralyzed.   Before the incident she was the director of a charity as well as a passport employee and did most of the housework. She is 62 and can’t do much as she lost some brain function. And she is aware of the loss and struggles to remember words and names.

Their son was imprisoned for one month, tortured but eventually was set free.  He is now wanted by the Syrian government. 

They said they had seen such violence only is movies and couldn’t believe until they saw it.

The husband/father then told a story about a good soldier - who saved his life. He wanted to go out to buy cigarettes but a soldier gave him some and told him to go back inside or he would be killed.

After that traumatic series of events, they fled to Midan in Syria. That area also came under attack so they decided they had to flee to Jordan. They brought the son who was arrested with them (along with a daughter) but one son stayed in Syria to fight against the regime with the Free Syrian army. While fighting he was wounded in the eye and went without food for one week. He was able to make it to Jordan for treatment but was so disheveled and starved when he arrived that his family did not recognize him. He had to have two surgeries and told stories of the massacre at Zeitoon where Iranians slaughtered people with knives.

We settled in for a cup of coffee and began to talk with the older woman. We told her our names and got her to repeat them back. Some she found funny...Abdulaziz in particular.  She would say it three times in a row and would start laughing heartily. We all joined in. We continued on and she laughed more. We celebrated when she said our names correctly with a round of applause that she relished in.  Her family was very pleased that she had a few moments of joy because she is sad so much of the time. 

16:29 The second visit was to a family from Zeitoon.  Their son was arrested for 13 days, tortured and released. Every time he passed a checkpoint after that he was beaten. He used to work in Babsbaa but they arrested him there so he did not return. They fled to a Damascus suburb until it came under attack from missiles and then came to Jordan. They arrived in Jordan illegally, having been smuggled through the desert. They stayed in camp Syba city for one month and then left for Amman. The husband used to be a butcher but can’t find work here. He tried a job for one month but was never paid.  One of the reasons they left the camp was to find work, but only one son has a job at an appliance repair shop where he make 20 JD ($28) a week.  All of the wife’s family are still in Homs, they are only able to call once every two weeks. One of the children’s schools in Syria has been destroyed and the other used as a military base. 

`The woman is crocheting scarves in the colors of the FSA flag and selling them to make money. At the same time she is teaching her daughter (about nine years old) to crochet.  The girl had just finished crocheting a bracelet and was very proud of her work. I decided I wanted to buy a scarf. She didn’t have finished so I paid for the scarf and she would bring it to the office the next day. Which she did! And her daughter gave me the bracelet she was so proud of. I’m wearing it now.

Monday, November 26, 2012

11.25.12 Meet sweet Nadia

Meet sweet Nadia. She was shot in the back when Assad's forces broke into town, pulled people out of their houses and started shooting them. She is paralyzed from the waist down. How could Assad's soldiers think this sweet little girl is a threat??

She is beautiful and has the heart of Mr. Iqtish (Jordan representative for both SAMS and JOHUD and advisor to His Excellence the King of Jordan) who calls her Princess. He is sad when he sees her but he only lets her see smiles and he brings her sweet treats to bring moments of joy. 

Close your eyes. Imagine that it is not safe for you to walk the streets because someone might shoot you in the back. What can be done to change this situation? All children have the right to grow up in peace and happiness. They deserve a chance to live.

What is to be done to change this situation? What can you do?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

11.23.12 Dinner Hookah Bar, downtown Amman

Jamal Iqtish, Advisor to the Royal King of Jordan and advisor to the Jordan Heshimite Fund and the Syrian American Medical Society's Amman advisor treated us to dinner at a Hookah Bar in Amman:

11.22.12 Visit to second SWS office & rehabilitation center

We met two physicians at the second Syrian Women’s Society center who talked more of the needs of Syrian refugees living in Amman.

The SWS tries to supply the cost of rent - about 200 JD ($280) a month for a basic one bedroom apartment,  blankets, carpets, pillows, electric heaters and clothing to recent arrivals.
At least 4,000 families need blankets and electric heaters as of today. On a daily basis people knock on the door asking for them.

Two Saudi gentlemen entered the office while we were talking. We were introduced and were told they are individuals not affiliated with any group who are volunteering to set up a prosthetics factory in Turkey. Unfortunately there are many civilians who have lost legs and arms and the cost to send someone to Europe or the States for prosthetics is prohibitively expensive so they came up with this financially feasible option. They are in partnership with a Pakastani doctor who is famous for his work on prosthetics and as soon as the factory is underway they will be able to produce a leg prosthetic, for example, for approximately 35JD ($49) – much cheaper than travel for the same product.

Next we met with Dr. Ahmad Al-Terkawi. He oversees the second rehabilitation center where injured Free Syrian Army fighters and male civilians recuperate after being released from the hospital.  They are given physical and psychological therapy. Humiliation and torture are so common psychological treatment is critical.

After our meeting as we were getting ready to head out to the second facility, the Saudi gentlemen came to us with Saudi fig treats and coffee. They were very excited to share with us and it was delicious!

We then traveled to the rehab center which is a huge building with three occupied floors and the fourth under construction. The first two floors house 39 patients and the third floor is housing for the cook and manager.  Since the building is nearly full they are searching for a second building so as to treat more injured.

Dr. Al-Terkawi is the in the process of requesting desperately needed supplies such as:
-          Wheel chairs
-          Crutches
-          Hospital Beds
-          Specialized beds for paralyzed  (cost for each is 1,000JD or $1400)
-          Medicine

Dr. Al-Terkawi went on to explain that he is strict with his patients because when they are healed enough they either have to find a job or return to Syria. He’s working on establishing additional training opportunities so they will have new job skills – particularly for those with physical limitations that can no longer perform the jobs they were doing before injured.  He said that the Syrian regime is very controlling. They tried to keep many from getting a proper education to keep them down.  At the moment tutors are working with the patients on basic skills such as language, computer use, etc.  These educational services will be expanded soon.  By being strict and insisting on education he wants patients to not get accustomed to being supported. They are working with all so that they can become self-sufficient and productive.

Approximately ten patients welcomed us at the rehab center.  Many spoke. The overarching position expressed was that the world has abandoned the Syrian people for nearly two years. The largest most powerful country in the world – the US – has been painfully absent. 

The FSA is getting stronger and said they do not want ground troops from foreign nations. They will finish this war by themselves and do not want foreigners to jump in at the end of the conflict and pretend that they had helped all along.  They did say that the main assistance that they would appreciate from the international community is the establishment of a no fly zone over Syria.  Syrians are patient and persevering, we were told, and this conflict will have a positive ending.

One soldier said ‘I won’t blame you if you don’t believe the degree of brutality that is being perpetrated in Syria because I didn’t believe it either until I saw it.’

It was interesting to hear their impression of the US. ‘US and Europe pretend they care about human rights. We asked for freedom and democracy and fair treatment and no one helps. We are determined and will go it alone for the US only gives voice to support the dignity of humanity but they don’t act on that belief. They are words only.’

Thursday, November 22, 2012

11.22.12 Our Luggage arrived about 8:30pm


11.21.12 Syrian Women's Society

Eqbal Ebrahim, Director of the Syrian Women's Society in Amman, welcomed us for an afternoon-long visit and tour of two of their facilities.

The SWS was established in 2006 and has grown to include offices in many Middle Eastern countries. Their primary purpose is the support, education and advancement of Syrian women – some of whom have had extraordinarily tragic experiences. They also have a rehabilitation center for recuperating Free Syrian Army soldiers and citizens.

SWS is:
-          Supplying simple furnished apartments to widows and injured women and their children who arriving from Syria;
-          Providing  educational services in first aid, computer use, culinary and sewing classes etc;
-          Offering  activities for children in the summer when school is not in session.

Eqbal brought us to one of the SWS homes. We met three women and their children.

Da’ara was the original home of the first woman and her two boys – ten and eight years old.  Her husband was killed, her mother was critically injured and her older son seriously hurt when a missle fired from a Syrian Air Force jet hit their home.  The older son, Ezzat, was beside his grandmother when her leg was amputated. She died shortly after arriving in Jordan. Both boys witnessed their father’s body parts scattered all over the living room. The injuries to Ezzat’s feet and legs are horrible. He was described as a very sad boy.  The younger son is acting out with much aggression. Both are receiving appropriate treatment and their family have been provided with a small apartment by the SWS free of charge. Each family being assisted is assigned an area of responsibility. She is responsible for the kitchen of the housing center.

Here is a photo of Ezzat’s injuries:

The manager of the home described Ezzat as being very shy when he first arrived in Jordan and that he’s come a long way. He was playing visual hide and seek with me with a smile on his face.  After playing for a while he allowed me to kiss his big cheeks.

The second women we spoke with was from Daara. Her husband and newborn baby girl were killed. She has four daughters and one son here who are in school. She fled to Jordan as she feared for the safety of her remaining daughters. She wanted to protect them from potentially being kidnapped and raped. 

The last woman in the room was there with her adult son, Taher Masalma, who had crutches at his side.  She has another son in the FSA and three daughters who are in Amman with her. Taher was injured and his father killed.

This is Taher (white jacket) with Mohammad Sukkar (our awesome guide) to his left, Nick to his right and the manager of the home:

Many were sitting at a mosque in Daara (where the revolution first began)  in protest, in peaceful revolution.  The army surrounded them and started throwing hand grenades then firing their weapons into the crowd. Taher was shot in the chest while trying to help the wounded around him.    After he was shot he was placed in an ambulance with seven or eight other wounded.  At a checkpoint on the way to the hospital the army started firing into the ambulance killing two doctors and the other passengers.  Taher was the only survivor…but the soldiers didn’t know that he was alive.  Some were speaking Farsi so he knew they were from Iran.
He stayed quiet in the ambulance bleeding  as he had been shot in the arm, back and leg at the checkpoint. The soldiers left thinking all were dead.  He was found about two hours later and was taken to a hospital where the regime had removed all medicines and medical equipment.  Because the physicians had no real tools they used a screw driver to remove the bullet that was lodged in this chest.  After arriving in Amman he had additional surgery, including the placement of three pins in his right leg which is still in a cast.

Here are pictures of the initial wounds:

And his leg still in a cast:

After visiting the home we went back to the SWS office where we were introduced to a young gentleman likely in his mid-twenties. He was arrested on the 3rd of October 2011 by the Air Force Intelligence because he had been a peaceful protester. He was ‘discovered’ when he went through a checkpoint as his name was on a list. 

He sat for 20 days in jail where he was interrogated and tortured the whole time. They applied electricity all over his body.

Here are some of his wounds:

After 20 days he was moved to a main military prison in Damascus.

He was in a basement room that was 1.5 x 2 meters (approximately 147.5 square feet) with 14 others. At one point they brought in an older gentleman who had cuts all over his body. He died within 15 minutes.  They yelled to the soldiers that the man had died. Their response was ‘a dog has died’. They left his body there all day, finally removing it in the evening.

The ceiling of the basement cell had three holes in it so the soldiers could watch them. Sometimes the soldiers would throw trash down on them through the holes or urinate down on them.

Two brothers, 15 and 16 years old, were raped by soldiers – in front of each other with people watching. And old man shouted ‘what are you doing to these children?’ The soldiers left the kids, got a stick and raped the older man with it. He was then beaten and was never seen again.  

He was there for 100 days, getting 2 meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.  In the morning he was tortured with electricity and at night with batons.  

He got to take a shower once a month. A group shower with his prison mates – another form of torture.
The last thing they did to him was got a barrel filled with water and put him in it. And then put electricity in the barrel. He passed  out. The soldiers got a doctor to revive him.

When it was announced that the UN Observers were coming they let him and everyone else go to ensure that there would be no evidence of torture in their facility.

He got a paper from the court saying how many days he was in prison, who arrested him and who signed the document. 'It is good evidence for future war crime trials', he said.

He asked me to write about two children dear to him His 15 year old brother was traveling from Jordan to Syria on the 14th of October (2012) to get papers he needed for school here. He was arrested at the border and has not been seen since. His family asked police about him but they said they had no information about such an arrest.  The taxi driver told his parents that he was arrested by Air Force personnel.  He also has a nephew that was arrested and whose whereabouts are unknown.  His family just wants to know if these two young boys are alive or dead.

This gentleman still has two brothers and a sister in Syria so he has asked us not to use his name.

He is an architect and is volunteering at the SWS center conducting classes in AutoCAD.