By Diana Coulter, IFRC
It’s hard enough to help people when you clearly see the pain, exhaustion or panic on their faces. But when thousands file past in the dark, as they arrive from Myanmar at the Bangladesh transit centre, stumbling or just staring blankly, all a small team of doctors and nurses could do was try their best.
“It was so terribly difficult,” recalls Dr Ola Dunin-Bell about the first time the Canadian Red Cross mobile medical team provided assistance at the transit camp for new arrivals, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), in support of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS).
“I just remember busloads of the very sick, and hundreds of others walking with children, arriving in waves, and it was so dark that I still worry about it.”
Arrivals generally happen during the day, but the Canadian Red Cross team’s first experience happened long after nightfall on a Friday, which is a day off for most in Bangladesh, including the local BDRCS translators and other volunteers who live more than an hour away from the transit camp. The medical team at a nearby field hospital scrambled to gather headlamps and recruited technicians, administrators and others to help. A car was parked with its headlights pointing down the camp’s path so people could see their way to medical help.
“A couple of ladies came into the area, one was pregnant and the other, I think, was her mum. Both were absolutely exhausted. The young woman was afraid whether things would be all right for her baby… I reassured her that yes, she was now in a place that was safe, and her baby would be all right. I could see her whole body just relaxed a little. She and her mum picked up their tiny load and went back to join the lines.”
Recalling that night, the doctors and nurses had to occasionally pause, as intense emotions and tears sometimes overcame them. They remember pain and suffering, but also incredible strength:
One of the doctors, Maria Munoz-Bernard, said: “So many shadows of people with children filing past, scared and so physically exhausted that they barely made it to us, but so brave. One of the saddest things I saw was an old woman being carried in a tiny wooden box suspended between two men who were also terribly frail with very thin arms, but they were obviously determined.”
Gerardo Escalante, another Red Cross delegate said, “There was a little girl, about 10 or 12 years old, just walking alone and confused at night. I asked her where her family was and she just told me: I’m alone. All my family was killed.” The team connected her with a range of support services.
Lynn Henderson, a nurse with the medical team described the morning after their first experience at transit camp, “I went to check on a woman who had given birth right after arriving that night. I remember walking into a wall of heat in her tent. I checked the baby and the mother, who was still covered in blood from childbirth. She had no other clothes. We did as much as we could, but it was so horrible to see humanity at such a terrible low.”
Since that first night, the mobile medical team together with BDRCS and IFRC teams continue to assist at the transit camp, where people are still arriving by the thousands.