Filipinos are among the minorities living in deplorable conditions in one of the oldest refugee camps in Lebanon set-up in 1949: the Shatila camp.
The vulnerable population, mostly comprised of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, suffers less from the acute trauma of war than from shifts in family dynamics and relationships caused by displacement.
To address their needs, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors without Borders began working in Shatila in September 2013 to provide free of charge medical services via a primary health care clinic and a women’s health centre.
Among the patients coming to MSF’s facilities are a number of Syrian refugees, especially women, who are seeking mental health services.
A few months ago, Ella Baron, a cartoonist on assignment with the Guardian, visited the clinic in the Shatila camp and met some of these women, as well as the psychologists giving them mental health support. She collected their testimonies and stories of bearing witness to the psychological and emotional challenges that women in the community face and overcome.
The result are the following drawings that illustrate the importance of mental health sessions for women living in such conditions and how MSF counsellors deal with their mission on a daily basis:
Patient: A good memory of my country? The night I finished my university exams. We all went to the public park to have a BBQ and chill.
MSF’s Psychologist: Good memories sustain us when things are hard. I say to dedicate a specific time every day to remember the places and people you have lost. But in order to make the most of the present, it is important to accept the reality that you cannot go back to the past.
Patient: When the bomb fell on our home, it trapped my legs. I couldn’t do anything; I watched my family die in front of my eyes. My mother, sister, my two children, dying and I did nothing. Since we arrived in Lebanon, most days I just stay in the room with the children. It’s been almost five weeks since my last day out.
MSF’s Psychologist: I try to help her to let go of this guilt, to see that her family would understand she did everything she could. We’re still working on the difference between forgetting and moving on.
Patient: My six-year-old daughter was kidnapped on her way back from the camp kindergarten. My husband is in prison for debt, so I have to raise the children alone. I don’t have time to walk them home from school.
MSF’s Psychologist: Sometimes I say that coming to terms with trauma is like opening a packed wardrobe. When you open the door a tangled mess pours out at you; you must sort through it before it can be carefully folded away.
MSF’s Psychologist: Working here can be difficult. When I need a break, I come up to the roof of our clinic. Look there, you can see how many birds – people feed them! Strange, when they themselves have so little. But perhaps they find in this a form of freedom.
Patient (to the illustrator): If I were to be drawn, I would want to look like a lady, don’t draw me in these baggy trousers.
MSF Midwife: Is it a boy or a girl?’ This is the first question at every ultrasound. If a lady is expecting a girl it may cause tension with her family, so we always say we don’t know. I tell her our priority is the health of the baby; I show her its body, point out the feet, hand, face; I let her listen to its heart. I still feel joy each time I deliver a baby, but it can be very hard. Once, I saw a girl aged 12 pregnant with her second baby.
Patient: There are 11 in my family, so I was sent out to work at the age of 13. I worked in a warehouse just outside Shatila, sorting clothes. My employer was a 45-year-old man. One night when I was working alone, he raped me. I could not say anything because I didn’t want my family to suffer the scandal. But, eventually, my older sister noticed the bruises and I told her everything. She brought me to MSF.
Editor’s note: The drawings have been initially published by the Guardian.
About the Author:
For more works of Ella Baron you may visit: http://www.ellabaron.com and follow her on social media: Facebook: @EllaMBaron // Twitter: @EBaronCartoons // Instagram: @ella_baron