Friday, January 25, 2013

Reaching out to out of reach women

Dear Loyal Blog Follower...

First patient, a baby needing heart surgery

If only you knew my thoughts and feelings today. If only you knew what I saw, and what I heard. If only...  I went with the START NGO Mobile Medical Team,  aiming to take medical services for women who are out of reach. The NGO had its own equipment and staff, though today the mobile medical bus (I think that is what it's called) was borrowed from the MoH - but it was not as functional as we thought it would be. 

The bus was given to the KRG's MoH by the Koreans
As the team began setting up, I spoke to the first woman there. She was in her thirties with a baby held in her arms. I say hello and the baby holds my fingers tight. (And me being all spiritual, I interpret this as the baby's way of telling me 'I need you Saz!') I am told by the mother that she took the new born to Erbil a few days back -- of course she paid so much money for transport, doctor and medication -- then realized the four month old needs a heart surgery after her second birthday. That's how my day began.

Women in the village waiting to see the Dr.
In less than an hour of our arrival I already had over 40 women's names in my notebook, I try to give them numbers so they know the sequence to see the doctor, only to realize most of them have not gone through any schooling that they can't recognize numbers. I feel guilty. I hope I have not caused any embarrassment. 
Sitting with the women in the village
The room inside the mosque (where we are based) is full and I sit on the floor outside with a group of women. They are friendly, very friendly and we talk as if we have known each other all our lives. I love these moments. I think to myself: "This is me. this is what I love doing."We talk of many things as we wait for other women to go in one by one to see the doctor. In this seating on the floor, I make many friends, and I also learn a lot about my own society, a place about 45 minutes outside my capital.
My first new friend, Pura Z.
I learn these women never go to a doctor for a checkup, only when they are in pain. I also learn these women are always in pain: "My knees, my back, my kidney, my stomach, I have a high blood pressure," Yes, one woman can tell you she suffers from all of these. I don't know if it is psychological or it is indeed true. I learn women here are also sensitive, I am asked over and over again if the doctor is a male or a female, I also learn they don't see their local nurses if they are males. I learn that these women don't get mammogram or pap smear tests. I learn they are not educated enough about any health or hygiene matters, everything from brushing teeth to smoking-- yes, many women in this village smoke. My friend Pura Z. said she smokes two packs of a day.

Smoking a norm among elder women
As we sit and talk, laugh and share stories I begin to uncover various other issues in this village. There seem to be many unwanted pregnancies and there is much interest from the women on contraception... after five, six and seven children. I meet a woman who seems to have been pregnant every single year since her marriage. I must also mention women here give birth at home, without the presence of a doctor or a professionally trained midwife. I learn these women all know one another, they are all somehow related, and they like to show off their new buk (bride) in large gatherings -- though I also realize they bring them to the doctor early on after their marriage if they are not expecting a few months after their marriage.
I am caught on my phone tweeting 
I make more friends. I learn being ill can be costly, serious illnesses means a travel to the capital, transport can be costly, and so are the doctors and medicine. I learn being an older women and being pregnant can be seen as shame. I also realize that coming once as a visit is not going to have much benefit. Many of these patients need follow ups.

Every women, every child, should have access to a great doctor and the best possible medication, without exceptions, without excuses. We also need to educate and empower women like Lami'a (a young woman I met with six kids) so that she can bring up her children in a better, healthier way.

The highlight of my day... 

My day is a little depressing. But it was special. Despite the major health crises, I realize once again that I live in a society where people are exceptionally friendly, welcoming, warm hearted, kind and after five minutes of meeting them it feels like a lifetime. As I sit on my bed tonight, I remember the faces I met, and I miss them. I wish to revisit as a friend, I wish to sit down on the ground as they speak of their life and I want to listen, ask questions. I want to laugh with them, and if I can... I want to help. They deserve help.

Hope for the future
P.S. I  am waiting for the return of some of our young Kurds abroad, who are studying medicine or have completed their degrees. I have a belief that the future of Kurdistan is in their hands, and I believe they are passionate, motivated and strong enough to contribute, they will come and save this crises. I know they will... all day today I was thinking of people like Kanyaw, Shak, Tara, Leila and many others.

All pictures were taken for the purpose of this blog only! 

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Kurd on her way to Harvard


Dr. Kanya Said, Harvard student
Dear Loyal Blog Follower, 

The success of my friends is my success, and their dreams coming true is my dream coming true. Kanya is a young Kurd, she is an amazingly Loyal friend and a great individual who is on her way to Harvard for her Masters. Since she is a true inspiration I asked her to write to you this week. So here is what she sent me:

"Where there is a will there is a way to reach your dreams"
I want to start by saying that this is unlike anything I have written before. This is an insight to who I am, Kanya Said, and my dreams and hopes for the future.
I was born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden but I have a Kurdish soul. My parents came to Sweden from Slemani because they had to leave, but they were dedicated to bring our homeland to our home. The language at home has always been Kurdish and the bedtime stories were all about the beauty of Kurdistan's nature, our people's generosity, brave hearts, and sacrifices. The older I got the more I learned and understood about my people's unhealed wounds from the past and their constant struggle to defend their rights to live.
Today I am a proud Kurd from Kurdistan. I have always loved school and knew that Medicine was my future. I started my educational journey by studying Dentistry for 3 years and then I changed to Medicine. I plan to finish both educations. Besides my basic education I write medical articles to corporate what I find important into the Health Care system in Kurdistan.
I am also writing a book "Manual of Medicine" in Kurdish that will help Kurds to increase their common medical knowledge; I work as a volunteer at Rosengrenska stiftelsen in Gothenburg with doctors giving medical care to immigrants that don't have legal access to it. It's worth mentioning that a lot of these patients are from our homeland.
On top of all of this I am working on my Master's Degree, and it's research, which I will be doing at Harvard University in Boston. I am the first Medical student from Gothenburg University who's going there.
I try to go back to Kurdistan as often as possible but due to my studies it's difficult to find an opportunity to do so. However when I do I try to be active as a volunteer in as many organizations as possible. The summer of 2012 for example I had the benefit to visit a school in Kanakawa, Slemani, where they were teaching English for free, with the famous journalist and photographer Donald Boström. There we were lead by the amazing TedxErbil speaker Sabah Ahmed and our group was also invited to his home where he told us about his successful inventions and future plans.
It's hard for me to travel often but like Cale Salih said: "You can travel through the internet and books"  and that's exactly what I am doing now. Pages like Facebook and Twitter makes it easy to get the latest news on the situation in our homeland and for people around the world to make their voice heard by those who should hear it. It's like a virtual diaspora but at the same time we can show the world what Kurdistan is through different pages online and worldwide events where we step up and show who we are. This new generation is, in my eyes, different from the previous one because most of us see Kurdistan and all its parts as one while the old minds are still limited in thinking of political parties.
The people I have met online have affected my life the most. I have learned that there are successful Kurds all around the world who are following their dreams and it makes me proud. It gives me hope that together we can fulfill the ultimate dream of mine, that I share with many others-- an independent Kurdistan.
Going to Harvard for my MD is a dream of mine coming true and I can't wait to go there and raise my beautiful Kurdish Flag to show everyone that I am from Kurdistan and to let some of those in the academic world know who we are and that we can make it here as well if we want to. 
As Sazan Mandalawi says "Be the change you want to see in Kurdistan." And that is what I'm trying to do. Medicine is my field but everyone has a dream of their own. I'm telling you my story because I want you to know that it is possible to be who you want to be. It's not easy at all but "where there is a will there is a way." If I can do it so can you. I have many more plans and dreams for the future. Most of them I have to fulfill myself but to reach the higher ones I need my Kurdish brothers and sisters.
Kanya Said,