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AdventistHelp extends aid to vulnerable refugee communities in Iraq, Greece

Dr. Michael-John Von Hörsten explains how the ministry has changed his life and how people can get involved.

AdventistHelp extends aid to vulnerable refugee communities in Iraq, Greece

[Photo courtesy of Michael-John Von Hörsten]

AdventistHelp is a medical humanitarian initiative set up in 2015 in response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. They provide emergency and primary medical care to vulnerable communities displaced by conflict or natural disaster.

The project began with a mobile emergency clinic situated on the north coast of the Greek island of Lesbos, a key entrance point for refugees coming by boat. The team treated thousands of ill and injured persons in the facility. The project then extended to an Afghan refugee camp in Athens where they provided medical services in a well-equipped camp clinic for a year and a half. 

In 2017 they extended their services into Iraq, partnering with ADRA Kurdistan. Together they developed a 45-bed field hospital equipped with an emergency unit, primary care physicians, dental and mental health care. The facility is situated 25 miles east of the city of Mosul, Iraq, which was recently liberated from three years of ISIS occupation. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced during that time.

Currently AdventistHelp provides services to five camps with a combined population of around 50, 000. Their medical center is known as one of the best equipped facilities in the entire zone. 

Recently, our ANN staff interviewed Michael-John Von Hörsten, a key figure for AdventistHelp, to see what his experience has been like and what is on the horizon for the ministry in the future.

ANN: Can you tell us about a specific person you’ve met through Adventist Help?

MJVH: “So many. I don’t know where to start! Meeting the refugees and getting a glimpse into their horrific worlds really changes the way you see the crisis. Whether it’s working with children who’ve had their parents murdered in front of them, treating women who’ve been raped and tortured by ISIS, rehabilitating a starving child from Mosul who’s been only eating grass for months, or providing life-saving care to severely injured civilians who’ve stepped on mines. The list goes on. The images in my head are so vivid. I can’t explain to you the satisfaction of assisting so many damaged people to find healing. We’ve seen more than 20, 000 patients in our Iraq clinic alone in the past four months.” 

ANN: What was their life like before they met you?

MJVH: “Horrific. The glimpse I’ve had into their worlds in the frontline work I’ve done is more awful than one could imagine. Just recently, I talked to a 15-year-old Afghani refugee at a camp I was visiting. His father was killed in front of him. He’s been separated from his brother, and had to leave his mother behind in a war-torn area of Afghanistan. He’s suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and is all on his own. He tries to be positive but you can see he’s really struggling. He’s one of thousands. I just wish we could do more. I remember the overloaded refugee boats arriving in Greece, full of soaking wet elderly, women and children. People collapsed on the beach. I’ve seen mothers standing blankly by the bodies of their children killed in airstrikes. Their faces tell stories.” 

ANN: Now that they’ve been in contact with Adventist Help, what is their outlook for the future?

MJVH: “It’s beautiful to see the transformation. At our ADRA/AH clinic in Iraq, we’re able to provide longer term care in the camp communities. It gives us a chance to develop closer relationships with the residents who visit the clinic frequently. The children with malnutrition are fattening up. The pregnant women are receiving the care they need. The elderly sick receive treatment. Their teeth are fixed. They tell us the clinic gives them hope again.” 

ANN: What have you learned about the refugee crisis through your involvement in Adventist Help?

MJVH: “They’re just like us. They have the same insecurities, hopes and fears. There’s so much discrimination and prejudice out there. I wish people could have the same exposure to these communities as we’ve been privileged to have over the past few years.” 

ANN: How has this changed you?

MJVH: “Once you start doing humanitarian work like this you never stop. My focus has shifted from corporate work to my volunteer work as a priority. It’s so meaningful and satisfying to be saving lives, bringing hope. I’ve received far more than I’ve given.” 

ANN: What is the biggest challenge you are facing? 

MJVH: “Obviously, funding is always a limitation. Medical interventions are costly. But we’ve had overwhelming support from so many parties already to keep our facilities operational. We’re also trying to expand our volunteer base as well as fill a few key leadership positions for our facilities.” 

ANN: What is on the horizon for Adventist Help for 2018?

MJVH: “Currently the ADRA/AH clinic in Iraq will continue its services to the camps east of Mosul. We will focus on expanding its mental health program. We’re also currently in discussion with ADRA Uganda about possibilities for another field hospital in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in northern Uganda, the largest in the world with 300, 000 Sudanese refugee residents. We are also looking at options to return to Lesbos, Greece, as there are huge gaps in medical services in refugee camps on the island. I’m hoping we can expand the health work significantly. It’s such a powerful witness. We are entirely volunteer run. If there are any medical professionals who want to spend some time with us please get in touch! We need you!” 

For more information on this very relevant ministry, please visit adventisthelp.org.