By Erez Gollan

My name is Erez Gollan, and I live in a small town called Kanaf, located in the Golan Heights in Israel. A few days ago, my Saturday afternoon routine was disrupted when I learned of the earthquake that had taken place in Morocco. I was asked to join a jump team of first responders who would head to Morocco to provide initial medical treatment and assess how our organization could best respond and provide aid to the survivors of the catastrophe. As a paramedic and volunteer first responder who is always on-call, I’m used to dropping everything to respond to an emergency, but this was a lot bigger than the emergencies I usually go to, which often involve one patient, sometimes a handful. But this emergency involved a large segment of the population in a foreign country. How could I not help?

I called to inquire whether United Hatzalah, the organization I volunteer with, would be sending a delegation. I received an affirmative response and I immediately packed a bag. As the town where I live is in the far north of Israel, I only had about 30 minutes from the time I learned of the tragedy, until I had to leave for the airport, as the advance jump team was set to depart on Saturday night. 

Everything was moving very quickly, and the situation didn’t give me any time to absorb or prepare for what I would be heading to. We had very little information to go on until we got on the ground. Leaving my family behind, and calling out of work for a week, was a bit surreal, but I knew that people needed help so that is what I did. 

We arrived in Marrakech on Sunday morning after a flight that stopped over in Europe. Our goal was to be the advanced jump team, meet with community leaders, and government officials, and map out where help was needed. This mission was done in order to get a proper analysis of the needs on the ground in order to pave the way for a much larger team should they be needed. From what we have seen so far, there is a lot of need here and everyone we meet is thankful that we came to help. In spite of the stress of the abrupt shift, I’m happy to be here and be able to help pave the way for the larger team to come so that they can be of service in a more precise manner and thus be able to reach more people. 

As we travel through the mountain villages to the southwest of Marrakech, areas where local resources haven’t been able to reach yet, we have gained a much greater understanding of what is needed here. We focused on these areas specifically because other agencies haven’t been here yet and there are no local hospitals in the region, so no one is quite sure what is needed here yet. We have gained a much greater understanding of their basic needs at the moment and we are trying to provide as best we can while connecting the individuals we help with local resources. 

The feeling that I am left with, from all of the people I’ve met with and helped thus far, is simply how shocking the situation is for the people who lost their homes and everything they had in a matter of seconds. Even if they didn’t have a lot, the simple fact of losing everything rendered them helpless to an extent. When we spoke to the representative of the local Jewish community in Marrakech in order to see how we can help the community, we learned of one family that lives in Marrakech who lost their home in the earthquake. Their home was in the old section of the city, and they were left with nothing. Some family members were in shock, while others were strong and resilient. The husband still opened his store, even though he lost his house. We worked with the family to help them process the situation and made sure to connect them with local resources, but the resources here are spread thin. Outside help is needed and that is something which we relayed back to our teams in Israel. I hope that in the coming days, we will be able to reach and help many others and that our secondary and much larger team will arrive soon in order to continue and increase the work that we have begun. I am proud to be here to share hope with the survivors and pave the way for additional aid to come.

The author is a volunteer paramedic from Kanaf, Israel. He works as a clinical researcher in medicine and is married with two children. He was born in Israel but spent his teenage years in South Africa where he learned English.