I learned at an early age to help those in need. I had amazing role models. My parents always welcomed our friends into our home and treated them as their own. They never questioned the friends who came hungry and ate double, sometimes triple portions. They allowed them to stay days, weeks, months if needed. While I had no idea at the time that I would become a nurse, the blueprints were already laid for me.
I moved to Sweden over 6 years ago. In that time, the unrest in Syria has unraveled and destroyed or displaced millions. It was on a sunny summer day in 2013 in the southwestern seaside city of Gothenburg that I witnessed desperation, helplessness, and trauma on a scale I had never before seen. I was interning in a refugee clinic that screens some of the average 50,000-100,000 asylum seekers a year coming to Sweden. Sweden offers housing, food, clothing, and education to asylum seekers entering the country. The interviews were scripted, the tests routine, but there was nothing routine about it.
Our first patient was a young woman from Syria. With a translator at her side, we began the interview. Where was she from? Who in her family was with her? I can still remember her face. No more than 30, you could see that she had been overexposed to the sun — perhaps a result of her treacherous journey? I wondered how she made it to Sweden. Was she one of the many unfortunates who risked their lives and gave their last penny to pile on a raft that might or might not make it across the Mediterranean? Did she endure a suffocating passage herded with others in the back of a semi?
She was visibly pregnant, in fact close to term. She could have been my sister, my best friend. I looked in her eyes as she began speaking of her family and could see the anguish behind them. She explained that she had two small children and a husband that she was separated from in Egypt and had not heard word of since. She begged for our help. What could I do? I was just an intern. I did the only thing I knew I could. I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and sat down next to her. She immediately broke down in tears, hysterical. Was the crying inevitable or was this just a first gesture of humanity in an uncertain future? I will never know.
What I do know is that I learned at a very young age that we never turn our backs on those in need. We never look the other way to protect our interests alone. We share what we have, comfort when needed, and help those less fortunate. If we are members of this thing called humanity, it is our duty to leave judgment and prejudice behind and lend a helping hand, even if it is just a shoulder to cry on.