Refugee Experience Recalibrates Heart, Mind of MTI Leader

By Stan Friedman

SEATTLE, WA (November 4, 2013) — “I get it that we’re weary of all that is happening in that part of the world,” Joe DiCarlo, director of emergency relief and global security for Medical Teams International (MTI), said Monday in reference to the Middle East. “I guess in some sense that was me, too.”

Three of the hundreds of thousands of children displaced to Lebanon by the civil war reflect the pain and hope of refugees.

Three of the hundreds of thousands of children displaced to Lebanon by the civil war reflect the pain and hope of refugees.

But a recent trip to assess the needs of Syrian refugees in Kurdish Iraq and Lebanon proved transformative as DiCarlo met with people who have experienced horrific violence during the apocalyptic destruction of their country. “It actually was a recalibration of my heart and mind as to what we do,” he said. To see more photos from the MTI’s fact-finding trip, click here.

Medical Teams is a frequent partner with Covenant World Relief in providing care to some of the neediest people in the world, including Syrians who have been driven from their homes. The denomination’s relief organization sent funds in August to help with life-saving work among refugees in Lebanon, and MTI is expanding its work in Lebanon with the help of CWR donations.

One million refugees have fled to Lebanon and now make up one-fifth of the population in the country, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, DiCarlo said, adding, “We are facing a catastrophe.”

Joe DiCarlo, right, says his heart has been ‘recalibrated’ while meeting refugees with  Jeff Pinneo, MTI president and CEO.

Joe DiCarlo, right, says his heart has been ‘recalibrated’ while meeting refugees with Jeff Pinneo, MTI president and CEO.

The numbers can be mind numbing, but the reality of people’s life is heartbreaking, said DiCarlo. While in Lebanon, he wept as he heard the story of a young boy whose arm was amputated after his home was bombed, and about a man who was kidnapped, tortured, and executed when he left the house to get food for his wife and daughter.

Medical Teams started providing gifts in kind of medical supplies in 2012 and started giving direct care earlier this year. They have been working with other non-governmental agencies and the United Nations.

The Lebanese government is not coordinating the relief work or setting up refugee camps, DiCarlo said. As a result, most of the Syrians are renting small parcels of land from farmers and cramming several families into small tents.

The result has been hundreds of “settlements” throughout the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. Coordinating care has been difficult due to the distance between the settlements.

Still, several mobile medical units supplied and staffed by MTI have provided care to 32 of the settlements. DiCarlo said the nonprofit hopes to expand its work as well as start a program in which medical personnel would “train the trainers” on issues of public health such as sanitation and immunization.

“That way we can prevent or reduce the severity of illnesses,” DiCarlo explained.

Some people are hesitant to provide assistance to the refugees, he said, because they fear giving assistance to terrorists or because most are Muslims. The MTI leader says, however, that few of the people are participating in the violence.

Regardless of their ethnicity or religion, DiCarlo says, “These are people made in the image of God.” He added that MTI workers have had an opportunity to pray and share the gospel with many of the people they care for.

Medical Teams decided not to work in Kurdish Iraq because the government there, which operates separately from the rest of the country, already has set up camps that are well thought-out and supplied. The refugees, most of whom are Kurds, have access to clean water, sanitation, and even schools.

“We just didn’t see the gap there that we did in Lebanon,” DiCarlo explained.

DiCarlo said memories of the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds have helped to guide their generous treatment of refugees. “They said, ‘We know what it is to be the victims of chemical weapons. We know what it is to be forced from our homes. We know what it is to be refugees.’ ”

Money from CWR’s disaster relief fund is being contributed to MTI’s work. To donate to the fund, click here.

Photos courtesy of Sean Sheridan.

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