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FOLLOWING THE FRONT

March 15th, 2017 Posted by Iraq, Photography, Volunteering No Comment yet

MOSUL, Iraq — As U.S. coalition-backed Iraqi forces trying to reclaim Mosul from ISIS continue to push forward into the western part of the city, NYC Medics’ mobile medical teams are following close behind. DISPATCHES media volunteer Ann Stevens caught up with NYC Medics Operations Coordinator Phil Suarez, just back from a two-week rotation on the front lines. Here’s an edited version of their interview:

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Q: The photographs you took and recently sent back from the front lines (see IMPACT STORIES section on this site for Phil’s updated photos from Mosul) recently pictured the emergency medical clinic that NYC Medics set up during your most recent rotation, located in an abandoned home. Is that a permanent headquarters?

PHIL SUAREZ: No, these are temporary locations. We’re on the move, and this week, we’re moving again. I just got off the phone with (Executive Director) Kathy (Bequary), and she and one of the generals of the coalition forces are scoping out new locations for our next clinic just behind the front lines. As the front moves—as coalition forces eat up ground from ISIS—we will keep moving. The object is for us to always be about 10 minutes from point of injury, from the front. Right now, we are about a 10-minute drive from the front. We had been in Abu Saif, but that has now been cleared of ISIS, so now the forces are on the move again, advancing closer to center city (Mosul). We’re preparing to move now, too, right behind them. In that new location, we will be something like 5 to 8 kilometers from the front. Up until now, we have been setting up our clinic in abandoned homes, in places still left standing. As we advance, we could find ourselves in evacuated airport terminals. It’s a little weird, knowing you’re in a place that used to be someone’s living room.

Q: Throughout history, medical teams treating people in conflict zones have often had to set up clinics in the homes of civilians no longer on site—during the American civil war, physicians converted civilian mansions at the edges of small towns near the battlefields into surgical theaters.

SUAREZ:  Given the destruction, though, these structures are all there is. Moving forward, it’s most likely that we will not stay in one place more than a week or two, unless the (U.S.-backed) coalition gets tied down, where it’s not gaining ground. That may happen once they advance to city center, and it could mean more civilians are thrown directly into the line of fire. 

Q: News reports here say that bombardment and gunfire are getting heavy, and The New York Times is reporting that coalition forces have recently recaptured a branch of the central bank, an archaeological museum that jihadists ransacked after taking the city in 2014, and a bridge that crosses the Tigris River in the center of the city. Other buildings retaken from the Islamic State have included a courthouse where ISIS militants had carried out whippings, stonings, and beheadings. These are fairly grisly environs.

SUAREZ: In nearby structures, we see evidence all the time of civilians having to flee quickly. It’s not unusual to see piles of clothing strewn across rooms, and pieces of things left behind in a hurry. These homes also show evidence of heavy fighting. Many have bullet holes in the facade and broken glass. 

Q: How vulnerable are you, as medical teams, to counter-attack? 

SUAREZ: We’re definitely close to the activity in the region, and as troops advance, we can hear more and more of the shelling. From the rooftops of our compound, can see smoke from the front lines. Some nights, it’s hard to sleep because of the artillery and shelling going back and forth. It’s pretty intense. But the place behind the front lines is also one of the safest places to be under these conditions, and we put all of our volunteers into mandatory training for these crisis zone conditions before they hit the ground here. I’ve been very impressed by the efficiency and caliber of our volunteers and how our advance teams have made these clinics as safe as possible for them to help the soldiers and civilians who get injured. We’re basically there to keep people alive long enough to get them transported to hospitals and surgical teams much further from the fighting.

Q: What is the ratio of children and civilians to soldiers that you’ve been treating so far?

SUAREZ: Early on, we were treating mostly soldiers because our mobile medical teams, early on, were mostly in towns that were largely unpopulated. But now, as we start pushing closer to the center city of Mosul, we are getting more civilians, and we’re also seeing civilians fleeing down the roads from us. Mosul is still a very populated place, with hundreds of thousands of people still trapped amid the fighting. Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city. Those civilians are one of the primary reasons we’re here. To get them out safely as we advance to retake the city is core to our mission here. 

Q: What’s your favorite story so far from this experience?

SUAREZ:  The children. They are inspiring. They’re no different than any children—and those left behind are very ambitious. A few the other day sold us sunflower seeds, very popular here as a snack. But they didn’t pocket the money. They reinvested it into their inventory and bought more varieties of snacks and then sold those to us, too, as the days went by. Each day, more variety. Very cool. Budding entrepreneurs with good business sense. Microeconomics, right? Start small and build it. It think that’s also what we’ve got in common here—a determination for better days ahead for the people here, and for these children, in particular.

To see more of Phil’s photos from the front, check out the IMPACT STORIES section of this site, under Iraq.

—Ann Stevens

(PHOTOGRAPHY: Phil Suarez, NYC Medics.)

 

 

CNN VISITS OUR CLINIC

March 4th, 2017 Posted by Iraq, Uncategorized, Volunteering, W.H.O. No Comment yet

ALBU SAIF, Iraq—One month into our mission, CNN found us to see how we were working on the ground in Iraq to help those injured by ISIS in the fight to re-take Mosul. Here’s the clip, and thanks to uber-volunteer Jeff Evans, a physician assistant quoted in the story. Jeff and nearly a dozen volunteers just arrived in Mosul, our second NYC Medics team on the ground since we deployed in early February to this war zone. Let us know what you think, and thanks to all of our participants, supporters, and influencers out there for your help and encouragement. It means the world to us—and ultimately, to the kids of Mosul who have been caught in the crossfire.

(VIDEO: Courtesy CNN International, March 3, 2017)

MOSUL: OUR FIRST WEEK IN A WAR ZONE

February 5th, 2017 Posted by Iraq, Photography, Volunteering, W.H.O. No Comment yet

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NEXT STOP: IRAQ

January 16th, 2017 Posted by Iraq, Volunteering, W.H.O. No Comment yet

NEW YORK —NYC Medics will be deploying emergency medical teams to Iraq this month to help save civilian lives in the ongoing battle by coalition forces to retake the embattled city of Mosul from ISIS. […]

W.H.O. RAISES THE BAR

November 15th, 2016 Posted by W.H.O. No Comment yet

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INNOVATION FROM THE EDGES

July 16th, 2016 Posted by Disaster Relief No Comment yet

NEW YORK—Is it an invention when you discover something that was always there? Something that was just waiting for someone to point to it, and declare it a great idea?

It’s a semantic argument, for sure. But it’s how I often feel about the NYC Medics model of disaster response—our unique approach to emergency medical response that uses small, lightweight, resilient, and flexible Mobile Medical Teams to deploy quickly into areas of the world that not might otherwise get reached. These MMTs afford a different way to address the challenges of getting disaster relief to people faster, and to those typically much harder to reach.

Ten years ago, during our founding mission to Pakistan, we “discovered” this model of post-disaster response. It allowed us to go faster, farther, and work in harsher conditions than mobile hospitals can. It allowed us to target people trapped in highly inaccessible areas—outside of the highly populated areas that other disaster aid groups typically have a hard time reaching (and so, therefore, do not).

Initial analytics might point to more people being served with fewer resources in high population areas, but many of those people have other options, or can wait longer, while people in inaccessible areas die frequently from the most easily remedied ailments. Even minor interventions, like cleaning wounds, delivered in remote villages, quickly after an event, can have profound and long-lasting effects on a life, a family, on us all. 

After more than 10 years, we’ve learned how to work in those dark and silent areas on a disaster map. Silence does not equal “all is fine.” In fact, it’s very often the absolute opposite. Having sent 30 teams over 10 years on 12 very different missions, we’ve proven that this “outside-in” model of working the edges first, while others work the center, is eminently feasible, reaches others not otherwise reached, and it’s inexpensive. 

We think it’s time for the world to take notice—not of us, but of the model. The discovery, and the logistical and deployment challenges it solves for all disaster relief efforts in a region, are too important to be addressed by just one one group. In the parlance of the IT world, we want to “open source” this model, and help others to use this approach so that more people can be helped when disaster hits.

—Steve Muth

(Steve is a co-founder of NYC Medics)

 

[PHOTO: Phil Suarez, NYC Medics]

TOUGH MUDDER

June 24th, 2016 Posted by Volunteering No Comment yet

NEW YORK — I have always wanted, personally, to have NYC Medics invite many of our volunteers to participate in some kind of group challenge or competition that would be suited just for them. Our disaster relief medics love a tough challenge in outdoor environments, so when we got together last Sunday for the Tough Mudder Challenge on Long Island, we all had a lot of fun.

We did the half-course, which involves negotiating an obstacle course through mud and climbing and physical exertion that tests fitness in the field. It’s muddy. And at the end of the day, it’s easy to become about 10 to 15 pounds heavier with all the mud stuck to your clothes.

It was a great day and we had an amazing team. Thank you to everyone who supported our efforts. Pledges and donations are still coming in, and we’re on track to raise $10,000 from this day and this team, alone. We’re now thinking we’ll do this again next year, and maybe assemble regional Tough Mudder teams to compete with each other to help us raise funds for our mission. [Check out our Facebook page photo book for more photos of us at the event.]

What we learned most from doing this event is that teamwork in fundraising, like teamwork in the field, can be incredibly rewarding—and can have a big impact. A group fundraising event like Tough Mudder can help people achieve their personal goals as well as the giving goals of the nonprofit they love. Our volunteers were deeply engaged and passionate about winning funds for us and crossing that finish line first. [And did we mention that our team won?]

This was our first time, ever, doing the Tough Mudder event, but it won’t be our last. Watch this space for 2017’s dates and times.

— Kathy Bequary

 

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