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A Smile is the Best Medicine- First Hand Account from a First Responder in Morocco
By: Liat Attias
The first place we arrived at was a village on a hill called Imi N’Tala. There were dozens of families each with many children whose homes had been destroyed by the earthquake. Tents had been set up in a field near the ruins of their former homes. We decided that we would set up our clinic close to the tents so that the people would be able to come over to us without having to walk far. We set up our tents and that drew a lot of attention.
As we took out the medical equipment we had brought people began to gather around us. It was very heartwarming to see. The local community leader had been informed as to what we were here to do and word spread quickly. The residents were very excited that we were there, they welcomed us, thanked us, and gave us a lot of blessings.
I befriended a 76-year-old man named Meshamim. He had stitches on his head, and his eyes were swollen shut. I switched the bandages for him, he thanked me and I felt a connection begin to grow. We gave him one of our chairs to sit in. As we treated him we began to worry that his condition might take a turn for the worse. Dr. Alla Karlinsky, one of our team’s doctors here in the clinic instructed me to give him antibiotics which would help in preventing the deterioration of his condition. I speak Moroccan Arabic, as my family is from here, so I was able to communicate with him directly and I told him what was happening. He agreed to the treatment. I hope that they helped and that his condition has improved since then.
There were many little children around the area, most of them were together with their families and helping with minor chores. We spent time with the children and played games with them. All were incredibly respectful and polite, they didn’t attack or grab things. They hugged us and said thank you for everything. It really warmed my heart to see how respectful and polite the children here were.
There was a tent set up specifically for the children to learn and play, in place of the school building which collapsed during the earthquake. We were invited into the tent where we met with a local medical practitioner and what appeared to be some of the teachers. The children ranged in age from kindergarten to high school, all in the same tent. We purchased markers, toys, and games, in Marrakech and we brought bracelets with United Hatzalah’s logo on them from Israel. We handed all of the supplies to the teachers to distribute to the children. The children were very excited to receive these things and would trade with each other if they didn’t like the color of something they received.
With the acquiescence of the teachers, we began to work with the children, in order to give the adults a break. We had no paper with us, so we took cardboard boxes and the children colored on those instead. They had seen the Israeli flag and patches on our vests and drew them on the cardboard, together with images of us. We then proceeded to make up songs, in a mish-mash of languages and sang them together. It was a very sweet moment and one that I will cherish. Overall, we reminded the children, and ourselves, that even in the face of the tragedy that they had just lived through we could still have fun, and that is a powerful step in rebuilding resiliency after a tragedy. After a while, which was far too short for the work that still needs to be done there, we had to leave, but when we left they were smiling. It left me with a feeling that we had accomplished something very important. Giving people who are recovering from a tragedy, especially of this magnitude a reason to smile is a big step. People who deal with these types of disasters know that sharing a smile is a very important part of treating people.
Aside from the sites of destroyed buildings all around us, and the smells that accompanied them, our work in Imi N’Tali for me was a satisfying and life-changing experience. It was amazing how people who had nothing, helped each other and accommodated us, allowing us, complete strangers, to help them. The time I spent in this village was heartwarming and meaningful. Every day since has been a repetition of much of the same. We are now six days into the medical side of our mission, and we have been to numerous villages, one or two a day where the protocols and interventions are the same, but the people are unique. Each experience with each person I encounter leaves me with a renewed sense of strength. The people in the villages that we have come to are incredibly kind, caring, and resilient. And for a few hours each day, they have placed their trust in us to help them. That is a responsibility that every member of our team takes very seriously. We cannot allow ourselves to break this trust, just as we are responsible for the patients we treat as first responders back home, so we have just as much, if not more of a responsibility to these people who have lost everything and are just beginning the process of healing before they can rebuild. I am proud to be a small part of that process and help them along their path.
Liat Attais giving out braclets with the United Hatzalah logo in Morocco
Liat Attias is a volunteer EMT from Jerusalem Israel. She is part of the United Hatzalah’s Disaster response and medical relief team that was sent to provide aid in Morocco. Liat, whose sister Linor is also a team member, joined the mission to help the people of Morocco as she herself is of Moroccan heritage. Her father was born in Fez prior to moving to Israel. This is Liat’s first international relief mission with the organization and she is looking forward to continuing her work in Morocco, and when the mission ends, back home in Israel.