"The feelings of satisfaction, happiness and success provide fuel for me to keep on working hard"
A Passion to Help Others: Dalal’s story
"I was the queen of the white house. My house was all white and clean. Everything was perfect.”
That was before the war. Five years ago, 42-year-old Dalal was forced to leave behind her beloved home in Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria, with her husband and four children. They settled in Shatila, one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
On the outskirts of Beirut, the camp is home to more than 20,000 people, roughly half of them from Palestine and the other half from Syria and elsewhere. There, shelters are packed tightly together. Sewage pours onto the streets.
“Shatila is very dangerous,” Dalal says. “There are many drug dealers and users and it is highly unsafe. We must always be alert and cautious.”
This life, however, is all they can afford.
Dalal’s husband works when he can, taking on day jobs varying from construction to house-cleaning, but his income is not high or regular enough to afford the monthly rent of an apartment in Beirut. These financial pressures forced their 15-year-old son to drop out of school and work at a grocery store to help make ends meet.
In 2015, Dalal decided to volunteer with International Medical Corps as a Health Outreach Volunteer as a way to earn a little income while also helping her community. She is one of 33 Community Health Volunteers near Beirut working with International Medical Corps, with support from the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR). Trained in a wide variety of health topics, from nutrition to personal hygiene, diarrhoea, lice and scabies, the volunteers then pass that information on to other refugee families and connect people as needed to various services, such as medical care.
“Once, I visited a 16-year-old girl who gave birth to a new baby and did not want to breastfeed her due to her lack of understanding about breastfeeding,” Dalal recalls. “I started giving her sessions to introduce her to the importance of breastfeeding and teaching her how it works. After only three sessions, the mother successfully started breastfeeding and continued doing so until the baby reached six months.”
Her work as a Health Outreach Volunteer has made Dalal a leader in her community, who people come to for help and advice. “My phone keeps on ringing all day,” Dalal says. “People share my number with each other and I receive calls from people I do not know asking for guidance and support at different levels.”
Dalal strongly believes in her work and trusts that the information she is providing, whether about health topics or the services provided by International Medical Corps and other organisations, is central to improving the health status of Syrian refugees like herself.
“Refugees here are unaware of the multiple organisations providing different types of support to them,” she explains. “Therefore, I make sure to share as much information as possible about these services.”
She also sees part of her role as being a reminder of the importance of health. As families struggle to eke out a living, health is rarely considered a priority, which can exacerbate their conditions over time. Dalal hopes that she is a “wake-up call” for her community to adopt healthy behaviours and seek care when they need it.
While Dalal knows that she can’t help every person she encounters, for her making a difference for one person is like changing the world.