by Marilu Reyna
The last week of June 2019, a group of individuals from various walks of life made their way across the globe, traveling more than 8,000 miles. The trip, which required multiple layovers and time-changes and took approximately 24 hours, brought them to the land of the Taj Mahal with spice markets and temples, where 1,500-pound cows roam freely in the streets, where marriages are sometimes arranged and where thousands of children and families live a life of extreme poverty: New Delhi, India.
Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) was in the capital city with a purpose – to help those in great need. On the outskirts of this metropolis, where millions of people live in cramped spaces only a few meters from the busy roadside where hundreds of thousands of commuters pass daily in a noisy cacophony of motor bikes, trucks, cars, buses and gas-powered rickshaws all honking and beeping incessantly, and where the states of Uttar Pradesh and Union Territory of New Delhi merge, a mobile medical clinic was established.
The travelers included Anahi Barron, Dorcas Adepoju, Emily Pinedo, Hector Chacon, Jazmin Howard, Jim Bonson, Kevin Neave, Kris Bryant, Martin Bocchino and myself. We were joined by Donna Coroiescu, who had previously visited India with Ian Anand Forber Pratt and Kaynat Salmani, two CERI staff members. There were professionals, students and married couples, all here to help fill a gap in services.
Throughout history, no matter the politics, refugees have, for numerous reasons, fled their homeland, in most cases with only the clothes on their backs, leaving family and any prized possessions they may have had, all to seek a better life.
When we spoke with the families, we learned that many had survived a horrific journey to India and had witnessed deaths and other unfathomable dangers along the way. They made their new homes with bamboo poles tied to plastic tarps, bedsheets and other scraps they found on the street.
They have no running water and inadequate toilets. There are nearly 350 refugees living in a settlement and it is expected that each and every one will visit the medical clinic in a two-day period.
When we began the first day of medical work in the camp, Jazmin Howard, a college student looking to pursue a career in the medical field, and Anahi Barron, a registered nurse, were assigned to triage. A rickety wooden table with three chairs at the entrance of the tent was surrounded with people waiting their turn. Anahi and Jazmin took temperatures and blood pressure readings and prepared a brief but important medical history on each patient. Some of the refugees had never seen a doctor or a dentist before. Their conditions included body rashes, cuts and sores due to living conditions, no shoes (in most cases), and little to no real hygiene regimen. Asthma was prevalent as well and is said to be a result of the open flame the families maintain in their shacks where they cook and boil water with little or no ventilation. The fumes from the wood and coal have a detrimental effect. Also prevalent were worms, burns, malnutrition, dehydration, abscess teeth, gum disease and other communicable diseases.
Young children looked like toddlers, much younger than their true age, due to lack of proper nutrition, while the elderly looked older than their true age, a result of a hard life that manifested itself on their sunburned skin, wrinkled faces and arthritic hands. A rickshaw driver came to us looking for relief from back pain, stating that he pulls 500 pounds all day, every day as part of his job. He could not afford to take time off but saw an opportunity at the clinic. A young mother came in holding her baby, almost lifeless from dehydration and a high fever, and was moved to the front of the line. They needed water and protection from the brutal heat or they would not survive.
Donna Coroiescu, a longtime CERI volunteer, wore medical scrubs that, by the end of the day, had several rings of dried salt from her own perspiration. The heat was brutal, but Donna knows the ropes, having traveled to India and many other countries over the past several years. She felt at home and was a nurturer at heart, there to do God’s work. Our team’s grueling schedule included early mornings and late nights, but Donna was the first one on the bus in the morning and the last to board in the evening. She worked with a servant’s heart and a leader’s mind, watching carefully that the medical clinic ran smoothly. She cared for babies while their mothers were examined, and she worked with the pharmacist to decipher prescriptions that were written out in a type of code for many of the patients, most of whom struggle to read.
Jim Bonson, a veteran and physician assistant, worked with a translator to see as many patients as possible. He took the triage information and tried to delve a little more into their medical history to find out what ailed them. He was thoughtful and thorough in his work and patiently maneuvered through his exams while staying aware of the cultural mores. Some women refused to be seen by a male and some refused to remove their veils, head scarfs or other layers that are part of their traditional dress. He persisted on helping and worked with each person, respecting their comfort level. And he made progress. Jim and the others provided medical exams to more than 300 patients in a two-day period. Dentist Emily Pinedo traveled from Australia with her husband, Martin Bocchino, to take part in this medical mission. The two teamed with local dentists and dental hygienists to give the people of the camp some much needed dental care. They were extremely busy both days as access to this type of care is rare and in demand. The dreaded trip to the dentist as we know it was not an issue with this population. They were most thankful to find relief, in some cases to tooth pain that had been plaguing them indefinitely.
Additional volunteers on the front lines included Dr. Dorcas Adepoju, a psychiatrist from the U.S., along with Kris Bryant, a licensed professional counselor. Kevin Neave, who joined us from London where he attends London South Bank University, and Hector Chacon, who works in Oregon with the BCFS System, were all part of the critical support team that helped with setup, logistics and other laborious tasks necessary in running the camp efficiently and effectively.
What brought these caring and compassionate professionals from all over the world to help? CERI. Celebrating 20 years of helping those in need.
By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Jazmin commented on her experience:
The people of New Delhi, India, gave me more than I could ever repay them. To most of these people, the future is not promised. At one point I asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The response is something that will stay with me forever.
Most have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but they wake up with joy every morning because they wake up to the opportunity to be better, to do better. Each day is a chance to embark on a new journey. Even with the extreme poverty and the seriousness of the situations that these families had to endure, smiles were still evident across their faces. They were fearless and full of hope. They uplifted each other with the truest form of unconditional love. What they did not know is, they also uplifted me.
Jim reflected upon his return from the trip simply stating, “I have learned even in my sufferings here in the U.S. I am still blessed. I often think of the refugees we met and treated at the camp and their resilience, and I am inspired. I pray for them and the marginalized people around the world. We can make a difference in their lives by telling their stories and taking action.”
CERI is taking action where it is not easy, where few are willing to take the risks; where profound differences have been made. In return, the hearts and souls of our volunteers are forever changed knowing they were part of something bigger than them.