Essam Daod: “The story of the voiceless people that no one want to tell”
Essam Daod, a Palestinian child psychiatrist, is an activist and cooperative with Proactiva Open Arms since 2015, when he decided to go to Lesvos in order to help people who cross the Mediterranean. Currently, he has his own organizations called Humanity Crew and gives speeches around the world talking about his experience in Greece and his life as a person without Human Rights in his own country.
– When did you and Maria decide to move on to Greece? We didn’t move, that’s why we establish humanity crew because we believe that it’s not about me and Maria and we don’t need to stop our lives to help others, if you do it right and organize it you can keep your life and stay strong and help much more people. The first time we went to Greece was because we want to run away from all the injustice in our country, we want to feel good and human by giving to others, and there we understand that our history and present is not just suffering but a huge knowledge and power that we can use to help others, because no one can understand a refugee better than someone who was born and raised in this narrative. So what we are doing now is translating 70 years of wars and suffering to knowledge and power, this how we can really liberate ourselves from the state of mine of being refugees for 70 years as Palestinian and also help others who at present are suffering to do the same.
– How long were you there? First time, 3 weeks
– How was your job as volunteer in Greece? This crisis has actually revealed to me the cruelty of the world we live in. Our own cruelty. I question whether standing on the Greek side, helping people who were exploited on the Turkish side, does a whole lot of good. Because in my daily life I buy Apple and Samsung products, knowing full well that they exploit people and lead to deaths in factories and sweatshops. I live in a country that itself does quite a lot of evil to other populations. So in my day-to-day life I’m on the Turkish side.
– What did you learn of this experience? You get a real mirror image of yourself between these two shorelines. You tell yourself, wow, I’m pretty disgusting but it’s pretty amazing here. Out of all the death and suffering, you begin to also see some good that you get from the refugees. Their gratitude, even when you do very little, just take them off a boat and greet them or give a hug. You get a real mirror image of yourself between these two shorelines. To be surrounded by good people, who have left everything behind and came to volunteer. People who cry when disasters take place and are happy when things are sorted out. You begin to enjoy this illusion. It’s like humanity’s paradise. Everyone is good. You don’t have to worry about your looks. You forget about your Facebook, WhatsApp, wars, money. For the first time in many years I managed to untangle myself from the teeth I had sunk into my back, capitalism, my mortgage, work, the daily struggle over who I am and what I am. Here I was in a place where I was simply seen as nothing but a human being.
– Could you tell us the best memory during your experience there? The moment engraved in my heart is the first time I have been able to reframe the experience of a child who arrived to the shore on a refugee boat, from the experience of fear and weakness to an experience of strength and heroism. His name was Omar and he was frightened and cried and did not know what was happening with him, I began to tell him the story of “Omar the hero who crossed the sea” … and slowly he stopped crying, began to smile and began to tell his imaginary heroic story about how he stopped the waves with his hand and protected everyone. And this is how a ground breaking technique of establishing new narrative of heroism in war zones was born, and nowadays we are expanded this project “the hero project” to other crisis zones so we cannot just ease the children trauma but preventing it and transforming it to a heroic and empowering one.
I am one of the few, if not the only, Arab child psychiatrist who works on the shoreline and in the #refugee camps in Greece since 2015, with @openarms_fund and @HumanityCrew. After my current mission, I can say that we are witnessing a mental health catastrophe. #WakeUpEurope pic.twitter.com/ICHy5r2gis
— Essam Daod (@essamdaod) 30 de diciembre de 2017
– Could you tell us the worst memory during your experience there? It was the end of October 2015 in the shore of Skala, north of Lesvos the Greek island, the weather was relatively good. We stood there, five members from the Spanish lifeguards “Proactiva Open Arms” and myself, on a cliff above the shore. We spotted a large wooden vessel that launched from the Turkish side and we began tracking it. Shortly after that we started seeing orange dots – life vests – just popping on the water. Like a ball that you push below water and it resurfaces up again. At first we thought it must be a small boat drowning. One of the guys had a thermal camera with an insane resolution – you could see people walking on the Turkish side with it. He suddenly called out to me and said “doc, come over here, I just counted more than 100 people, probably 200 or 300 people.” in the water. He knew precisely why he was calling out these numbers. He wanted me to understand it was not a small rubber boat drowning but a wooden yacht disintegrating. And then he said he could see on the surface black spots that keep disappearing. People drowning. The Spanish lifeguards went out to sea with a jet ski towards the site. We alerted all the organizations and groups around. The Greek coastal guard arrived, fishing vessels came for the rescue – everyone started pulling people out of the water, some using the boats some even using nets. We were on the beach doing resuscitations. Children with their parents, children without them, it was such chaos. This one died, leave him, this one will not make it, leave him. There was only one or maybe two oxygen tanks, not more. No medicines anywhere. All manual resuscitation. We were on the beach until 1am. The Greeks took the children into their homes, opened churches and schools so people could spend the night there. Volunteers gave up their hotel rooms so that the refugees could sleep. The next day all that was left of all this was a laconic headline announcing “242 people were rescued by the Greek coastal guard“ and nothing about more than 30 dead bodies and more than 100 missing!
– How does To Kyma influence your life? I can say it in few words! Tokyma is one of the reasons that Humanity Crew exist. It is the only film that tells the story of what happen in the islands, which help us to be known, and to receive support and recognition, Tokyma is the best example of how camera in the hand of good people can make a huge deference.
– Could you explain us the story of Humanity Crew? After our first mission in October 2015, when we witnessed the suffering of more than 200,000 people how arrived in less than one month in crowded rubber boats from Turkey to Greece fleeing war, when hundreds found their death. I remember that a week after we went back home, while we were sitting with friends and sharing our stories from Greece, I show them a picture of a kid which published in a German newspaper, a kid that I did to him a successful CPR after a big shipwreck on the 28th of October, so while I am telling the story my wife just took a look and said “this is Ahmed” and she starts telling how he arrived to the hospital not reacting to anything, traumatized (very deep traumatic reaction called catatonia) and how for three days she slept next to him and hugged him, talking with him in Arabic until he starts to move and he took her with her hand to the glass door of the department where he put his hand and said in Arabic “ANA BADI BAYT” (I want home) in English. When Maria finished her story I start to cry, because I realized that I am also being blind to the soul of the refugees, that I create robots after each CPR by neglecting their souls. That time my wife Maria was just after her graduation from George Washington university with a second degree in law and I was very close to the end of my residency in child psychiatry, so we decide to continue together and founded humanity crew for providing psychosocial aid and first response mental health first aid to refugees and displaced population. Since our first mission, we had 194 delegations and we provided more than 26,000 hours of mental health support to over 10,000 refugees. We do this by partnering with Proactiva Open Arms the Spanish lifeguards from Badalona, Spain. Who lead the rescue operation in the Mediterranean sea since 2015 and rescued hundreds of thousands until now.
– How was your experience in Catalonia talking about your job as Psychiatrist? In 2016 me and Humanity Crew were awarded “The Defenders of Refugee Rights Award” at the 4th Edition of Cities Defending Human Rights in Barcelona. I give more that 10 talks around Catalonia, almost in every city to politicians and school students and the public, it was a great experience for me because I meet the Catalan people for the first time and understand why they are standing in the right said of every crisis in the world and never support the wrong side. It’s because the huge investment in the new generation, the best talks were the talk for the 7th grads to see the awareness of these children to the suffering of the others and their willing to help warm your heart and understand why proactive were the first to help.
– Could you explain us your experience in the TED talks? The TED talk was a great experience, a big achievement for us in humanity crew, but the most important thing is that I bring the mental health of the refugees to the biggest stage in the world! And make people who can influence to think and consider their support to this important and neglected aspect of the humanitarian aid. Add to this that the talk have been chosen to be the main ted talk on ted.com on honor of the world refugee day in June 20, 2018.
Watch Dr. @essamdaod of @HumanityCrew on the #TED stage as a 2018 @TEDFellow, proving that from small ideas, big accomplishments can be made. On #WorldRefugeeDay we are doing our part by raising awareness of #refugees' #mentalhealth throughout the world. https://t.co/zN5mVFcpuq
— Humanity Crew (@HumanityCrew) 20 de junio de 2018
– How is the situation in Palestine now? It’s all about Gaza! Nothing else we shouldn’t talk about anything else because what happing there is a crime against the humanity! Gaza is the biggest prison in the world, no access to the outer world, almost 3 million people without any rights and no one talk about it, 3 hours electricity 90% of their water is not drinkable, mental health catastrophe, almost 100 have been shot and killed just last months in the peaceful demonstration on the border! All the world need to wake up and fast
– How does this situation affect children psychologically? The children of the refugees are without doubt the most vulnerable, first, because they are children, and second, because their parents are also affected psychologically, which makes it difficult for them to develop in a healthy atmosphere. The trauma has an impact on all the aspects, biologically change the brain structure and function of the survivor children, in the future they will have higher chances to be addicted to drugs, to commit suicide and suffer from mental health issues. That means they will grow up to be un healthy society member who will hardly be a productive to the host communities .
– How long have you been working as Child Psychiatrist? Since 2012, 6 years
– Finally, how did Tokyma influence people in Palestine and Israel? I think Tokyma did the same thing everywhere! It tells the people the story of human beings, from both sides the survivors and the rescuers without politics and self-interest, the story of the voiceless people that no one want to tell! So the people realize that it’s not ISIS or Assad’s solders that comes to Europe as the politicians said, it’s not men who want to work, it is babies and women and men who flee death and seeking life! Tokyma shows everyone the human side of this crisis.