On my 5th day on Samos, there was an explosion of a gas cooker in a tent and four people were severely burned – a mother, father and their two children. With burns, every minute counts. We needed to pour water on them immediately, so you can only imagine my horror upon turning on the faucet to find out the water at the refugee camp wasn’t working (again).
An ambulance was called but past experience has taught us that we could not afford to wait for it. We rushed the family into cars and I did my best to hold the little girl’s feet in a small bowl of water. Though we had our Arabic translator with us, the family is Kurdish and couldn’t understand a word we said. I sang the English alphabet to the little girl and stroked her hair, praying her shock would not wear off just yet.
Our arrival at the hospital was not what I expected. On Samos, the hospital is under-staffed and under-funded and despite the severity of their burns, it was two hours before the children were treated. Two hours without pain medication. Two hours without even water. When they were finally seen by a doctor, the little girl needed an IV but was afraid of needles. Eventually it took six adults to hold her still and she screamed in agony the entire time. At that point, I was so glad I was positioned behind her because I could not stop the tears I had held in for so long. Amazingly, despite her excruciating pain, the little girl mustered the energy to comfort her little brother, telling him in Kurdish that it was going to be okay. I have never met a more brave 8 year old.
I spent the night in the hospital with those children, never leaving their side. I have also visited several times since, and have done everything I can to ensure that they have what they need…but there is little reason to hope for an acceptable outcome, let alone a good one. The family needs more medical care than the Greek system can provide. The little girl would need months of physical therapy to ensure her burns heal in a way that does not forever impair the use of her hands and feet.
We failed this family. I failed this family. But what happens next is something we have the power to change and we must do better. Even though I will leave Greece soon, this family will always be with me.
Text: Samantha Joseph (volunteer Boat Refugee Foundation)
Photo: Marjan van der Meer (We have no picture of the little girl in this story. This picture has been taken on another occasion.)