Local students volunteer with doctors in Syria
The Syrian refugee crisis is now recognized as the largest of our time. Two Pensacola teens just got back from a medical mission, working with refugees in Jordan.
Noor Rifai and Ellen Ryan are International Baccalaureate students at Pensacola High School. For 10 days in January, they helped volunteer doctors from the Syrian American Medical Society treat more than 4,000 patients.
Ellen said, "Getting to go to the clinics and see all these doctors from all over the world helping these refugees who have close to nothing was just amazing."
Noor's father is Dr. Aref Rifai, a Pensacola ophthalmologist who has made several mission trips.
She added, "I remember one time my did an injection, I think it was our first day, and the patient was inviting him for dinner at his house after. So they were very excited."
Noor and Ellen were not allowed into refugee camps. The group has decided the harsh conditions can be overwhelming for young volunteers. They worked in a clinic in Amman, helping doctors manage a huge influx of patients.
Both said the thing they'll remember most is a visit to a day care called Happiness Again, where children begin to heal the wounds of war.
Ellen said, "When they first get there, a lot of the kids will grab the toy soldiers and the tanks and create war zones in the sand, and they'll bury the soldiers. Some of the kids, the teacher said, had to bury their own parents in Syria."
The students brought an extra bag with them, filled with scarce medicines. They left with a desire to help more, and one day, to return.
Noor said, "Politics stripped aside, these are people who are in need, and they just don't have access to everything that we have in the states and we just need to feel grateful every single day and help when we can."
Noor and Ellen created The Jood Refugee Project to raise money and awareness about the crisis.
"Jood" is the Arabic word for kindness and generosity.
You can find out more on their website here.