Syria, refugees — how to help!

I’m posting the following from our Firefly Action Medic comrade, Rebecca Piser, because she wants this information spread. We watch in anguish the horrors unfolding in the world, both near and far, feeling lost and helpless–but there are many ways that we CAN help. Taking action serves the needs of others, and there is no better self-care in times of crisis.
Please read, go to the links. Pass this on.

Everything is connected. Every act of service, brings us a step closer to healing the whole world.



Hello Family and Friends!

So this is not about Palestine. It is about Syria and it is not short😉

There is a lot going on the world right now. Here is an example of what is happening in Syria. This is from last week:

The only reason to write about my experience working with Syrians, currently refugees living in Jordan, is if people reading this have something to do, somewhere to put this information. Being sad and overwhelmed by this catastrophe is expected and is human, but it is not productive and does not help anyone. I am not interested in writing for the sake of people knowing what I am doing. I am not confident in my ability to speak about this because I am a guest here, I am a guest to interacting with the violence in and around Syria, but it is my hope that reading about my very short time here will be motivate you to pick something to do, do it, and keep paying attention to Syria and keep paying attention to suffering and resilience in this world wherever it may be. Some options of what to do are at the end of this update.

Some resources I have found useful. Just because I am posting these, or any other links!, does not mean that I agree with or advocate for all of the information in them. They are just a starting point.

New Yorker Radio Hour from 28 October 2016, the first 2/3’s of this podcast are good:

From 24 May 2016 

Last week I took part in a short medical mission with The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). Since 1998 Syrian-American medical professionals have supported their counterparts in Syria with conferences, trainings and direct material support. Since the catastrophe began a few years ago, the majority of their work is within Syria: building underground hospitals and clinics, paying salaries of medical professionals who want to remain in Syria to work, getting meds and supplies in, and Etc. SAMS keeps great documentation of this work, but must keep exact locations internal for the safety of those in Syria and because of the dynamics of donor-funded medical work in a conflict zone. SAMS works with refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Jordan.

This week we provided care at clinics in the cities of Amman, Mafraq, and Irbid (80% of all refugees in Jordan are not in camps), at the well-known Zaatari Camp, (pictures attached) and in 2 hospitals. One hospital did about 60 free cardiac caths for refugees, the other did colorectal and ENT surgeries (picture attached) and followed-up on the kidney transplant and open-heart surgery cases from the previous mission. There was also a psychosocial-mental health team.

This opportunity fell into my lap, I was in the neighborhood anyway, just over the border and a dear friend (Hi Amna!) worked with them in Greece and suggested I apply. There were doctors, specialists, surgeons, nurses, dentists, translators, and Etc. from all over the world, many Syrian or Syrian-American, all grounded in supporting Syrians surviving this violence. There were a couple families, one doctor brought his two daughters who volunteered as translators, another entire family came husband and wife are doctors, son is a radiologist and daughter could translate and the mission leader brought his teenage son to translate.

We had many many interesting conversations, lots of hilarious times – as happens in healthcare when you work with kids or have to talk about body functions with strangers (like the very emotional and very constipated 8-month pregnant woman who triumphantly announced to us in the exam room in the camp on the 2nd day we saw her that she was “all better!”) and of course intense times, as also happen in healthcare when there are devastatingly few options (like the 30 year old in a wheelchair in the camp with metastasized spinal cancer, stage 4 pressure ulcers, and in denial about his ability to walk again. Cancer treatment is close to impossible for many refugees for many reasons. His brothers picked him up in his wheelchair to bring him into the exam room and were a very loving family to meet.)

People I will not forget are the 8-year-old with prolonged QT syndrome. Meaning his heart has an abnormal rhythm, with the risk of sudden cardiac death. He has access to the medication he needs and may be fine with this, but his brother died of the same thing, his sister also has this and his father clearly loves him very much and knows how tenuous his life. At a different time and place he would probably have a pacemaker or life-vest, but instead he is a frail, shy, sweet, kid with this weight of sudden cardiac death following him around as he grows up in the camp.

Another is the 60-year-old man seen for chest pain, laying on the exam table in a tiny exam room in the camp and crying quietly while he got an echocardiogram. After the test he wanted to speak about Syria. His voice would go up an octave, he would talk fast and went on and on about how no one in the world cares for this family member who died and that person who was killed. How Syria has been abandoned by the world, that no one cares. He was very distressed. His son had been killed and he was extra warm with the young Jordanian doctor in the room with the cardiologist and I, we think because he reminded him of his son who died and he kissed him on the forehead as a father or grandfather would. I saw him again in the hospital on the last day. He was wandering around the hall after his cath procedure, checking out the hospital, recognized me smiling and was clearly very relieved to have had his procedure behind him.

Another is this older-looking woman wearing all-black but with a big, open, friendly smile, she was a hugger. She was only about 64, but everyone looks 10 – 20 years older than their age because of stress. She had a bunch of pains in her knee and her back. We didn’t ask but she told us through tears about her sons who had all been killed in Syria. We were all crying together actually and the kind doctor I worked with that day did an extra thorough exam of her arthritic knees. She palpated them, checked range of motion and circulation, asked lots of questions, very thorough. There were about 3 women who came in, in a similar way. Watching the doc do this, it reminded me of when you are in a car accident for example, and you thankfully survive, and you get out and feel for your head and your arms and body to be sure it’s all there. It was as if these women felt better that a doctor had checked them out, laid their hands on their arms and legs, felt for any problems and then said with confidence and a smile, ‘yes, you are fine, you are all here.’ Don’t know if I’m explaining this well, but it was a beautiful moment to witness.

The flow of the clinic was a chaos that seemed pretty familiar. (Pictures below) We shared blood pressure cuffs and otoscopes between rooms, had no table some days, meds the docs wanted to prescribe are not available, most people had viral respiratory infections from the cold weather and all the dust, if they were in the camp.

And everyone is a survivor. The kids under 6 know nothing but a country filled with violence, the ones under 4 probably only know a life in the camp.

The day that impacted me the most was the last day, not in the refugee camps, but I was assigned to the cath lab in the hospital. After watching a few procedures and chatting with my fellow nurses about our worlds of nursing, one of the cardiologists asked me and a translator to interview patients for his study. This was preliminary research for a study essentially looking at the connection between cardiac disease and mental health among Syrian refugees. This meant that we interviewed patients hours after their life-changing procedure and asked questions about their mental health. This is problematic, though a great idea overall. This particular study needs a lot of work, which we all talked openly about so I won’t get in to that here.

What struck me the most in listening to these men, was hearing many of them describing the impact of this sudden shift from stability and healthy, productive lives in Syria to poverty, no options, discomfort of living in a tent or a tin house in the desert, with nothing to do. Being a refugee costs money. Most are middle class, professionals, with businesses, many with college education, and assets such as homes and land. These men were distressed by the impact of going from being successful, planning for the future and able to support their families, to now living in a refugee camp in the desert with all the stress that comes with being completely poor and having very few options, all happening in a very short time.


Now they wait. Most Syrians I talked to about this, refugees or not, said they are all waiting. Very few can plan for the future, have not been able to plan for years. Everyone is waiting for the next horror and the next catastrophe, waiting for it all to be over, waiting. There are bombings, starvation, both slow and quick deaths all the time.

Syria is a beautiful country with a very deep history.

Syrians I spoke to about this said that every single Syrian wants to gather back from all over the globe to rebuild Syria when this catastrophe is over.


There was one thought that came up in my mind again and again the entire week: People are strong and people are resilient and sometimes I would catch myself feeling overwhelmed just by being in the presence of someone who had survived this war, is currently still coping with so much, unimaginable even to them, and yet still is standing and moving forward.


So, on to some options of what to do.

Many outside Syria send money in for food and fuel. People need support to survive this war. It is not just bombings that kill people, starvation has been killing some, being unable to afford basic necessities kills people, being unable to do human things like learn and work makes people lose all hope. This is happening to people in other parts of the world as well.


I trust the friends I have met this week. 2 have family in Aleppo and in Idlib they send money to. What about the families without anyone sending them money? When I asked how on earth they are surviving, I usually got a sad, close to defeated look and a response like “they just do.” That is resilience.

If you want to directly support a family that one of my friends knows or someone their families know, we have figured out a direct way for any of you to send money, however much is helpful. It is surprisingly easy, it just requires trust. Let me know if you are interested! I hope you are.


Ways to donate money to established organizations:

There are many, many others… Please let me know any you respect. Especially ones working within Syria or within war zones in other parts of the world.


Ways to donate time:

Organizations working with Syrian (and other refugees) in Philly are:

  • – GJC is supporting a family through them and collect some clothing and furniture; they also need volunteers to escort refugees to medical appts., and to help them settle in to life in Philly.

Anecdotally from a friend in Philly working in the field, many refugees in Philly are having a really terrible time navigating life here for a variety of reasons. Finding jobs, building relationships, even finding affordable activities for their kids to do is difficult. Everything is hard. Building a friendship, being open and offering your time is a good way to be part of mutual support. Almost all of us reading this have family who were refugees or immigrants from somewhere at some point when different people were the ones fleeing from violence against them.


Thank you for reading this very long update.

Hope it was clear and useful and hope it reflects the balance of humanity that spans catastrophe and resilience.

All my best,






34″ x 26″ Acrylic & strips of canvas on Masonite.
This has been sitting in the basement for months. I’d glued strips of canvas to the Masonite, rolled on both black and white gesso, thinking this would be a B&W piece (See HERE) Last night, 2:30 AM, I went down to the basement; all I wanted to do, was cover the B&W, which wasn’t working. This is what happened.



30″ x 24″ Acrylic on canvas. This wasn’t what I had in mind, went off in another direction…in the best way–leaving the imageless, generative vision that was driving me, still alive, still working. I think there may be a few more pieces happen before it’s exhausted.

This took four days… would have taken months to do in oil. So many layers, having to leave each to dry before adding the next. With acrylic, I could do 3 or 4 layers each day. Layers and detail.


Standing Rock: The Most Important Struggle of Our Age?

It’s not the flow of oil that’s at stake at Standing Rock, it’s the flow of money. I was thinking about why there’s not been a massive shift of investment to renewable energy: wind, solar, wave, when it’s been pretty clearly established that renewables could replace virtually everything we get from oil but lubrication and plastics, both of which also have alternatives; and watching the battle over the pipeline, it occurred to me that the answer is right there in front of our eyes: oil flows. As oil moves from source to refinery and production, to all the points of distribution, capital follows, multiplying at every stage. Renewables are far more than alternative sources of energy; they represent, forgive the cliché—a paradigm shift for economics, and existing structures of power.

The renewables truly do belong to a different world. Think of Israel, as just one example. The oil based money pipeline that flows from the Middle East to Houston to New York to Israel—without it, without that flow of American capital, in the form of money and weapons, Israel would not exist as the rogue colonial power that it does. There is little resemblance with wind and solar, to the complex, capital multiplying networks of supply and distribution that exists with fossil fuels. Why? Because… wind and sun are everywhere. Generation favors locality, and what follows, is nothing less than the dismantling of the pipeline-tanker-refinery-banker system, and with it, the vast military complex used to control and defend it. The very fact of universal delivery presages the failure of the present system ( SEE — Niklas Luhmann: So-Called System Failure)

In this light, what an amazing confluence of interests and circumstances is happening now in North Dakota! The emergence of native peoples, the blocking of the pipeline, which is the blocking of the flow… the Flow, the power driving the one civilization blocked by this beautiful eruption of spiritual power from another, one that is both a reassertion of what existed before European dominance of the continent, and promising yet another, a new world that is indeed, possible! This confrontation in North Dakota has become, materially, symbolically, spiritually—the focal center of the most important struggle of our age—on the outcome of which hangs nothing less than the survival of our species… and the many others we will take down with us if we fail.

(I would very much appreciate feedback on this, and if you think it worth while–please share)

It was the end all along

In Israel, we see how the executioners always win. If they do not succeed in exterminating their victims, they know that they will be reincarnated in the survivors.

It’s the horror of this knowledge–unacknowledged by the executioners, that drives them to ever greater carnage, to ever greater acts of cruelty. To save future generations from yet another visitation of what they have become, they are driven toward the annihilation of their victims.

Genocide as an unconscious act of mercy to future generations.

When we killed the gods, they made us their heirs.