Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This is why we're December blogger of the month Julia Rubin-Smith

A self-portrait:
Our little friend from Tanzania.

Many of us came to MSIH specifically because of its focus on global health and the opportunities that living in the Negev would afford us to work with underserved populations, especially Bedouins and new immigrants. Many students have been taking advantage of these opportunities, helping to organize events for International AIDS Day, volunteering their time to teach English to Bedouin teenagers, attending lectures on Bedouin history and culture, and getting involved in research with MSIH faculty, among other things. Two organizations that MSIH students have been regularly involved with are Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-IL), both of which I had the good fortune of visiting over the last month. A couple of Fridays ago, I joined three of my classmates on a trip to SACH (, an Israeli organization that provides heart surgery for children from developing countries all over the world. SACH has a house just outside Tel Aviv where the children stay while waiting for their surgeries and during their recovery. We spent a couple hours at the SACH house playing with the kids – Obama and Sofia, from Angola, and Stephano and Kulwa from Tanzania – they were so fun and full of energy, and it was great to take a break from studying and just have some kid time.

The following Friday I headed back to Tel Aviv, this time to visit PHR-IL, which has an open clinic in Jaffa that serves mainly migrant workers and refugees; many of these asylum seekers suffered unspeakable human rights violations on their long journeys across the Sinai desert from countries such as Eritrea and Ethiopia. Much of the morning was spent learning about the work that PHR does in Israel, and about the hardships experienced by their beneficiaries. It was an eye-opening experience; I must admit I knew very little about the problem of people smuggling in the Sinai, and especially about the kidnapping, extortion and mistreatment of refugees that goes on (for more information on PHR-Israel’s work, go to The room was packed with 1st and 2nd year MSIH students and students from another medical school in Tel Aviv, as well as other potential PHR-IL volunteers. It was great to see so much interest in working with this fantastic organization. In the afternoon we went on a tour of Jaffa, led by a young Israeli Arab man who works for PHR-IL and was a very knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide. The weather alternated between pouring, drizzling, and just plain windy, but despite the less than perfect day outside, we all had a great time.
It's true.  We live in food heaven!

By the end of the tour most of us were starving, so our final stop in Jaffa was a small Palestinian restaurant where they graciously seated 14 of us in a back room, even though we gave them no advance warning that we were coming! Instead of ordering from the menu we followed the owner’s suggestion to just let them bring us lots of whatever they wanted – it was a brilliant idea, as the food was truly amazing. Of course, the size of the bill ended up reflecting the high quality of the food, but despite the slight sticker shock it was totally worth it. Overall it was an inspiring day, and a good reminder of the exciting work that lies ahead of us as doctors: during the morning talk at the PHR-IL clinic one of my classmates leaned over to me and whispered excitedly, “THIS is why we’re here!” I couldn’t agree more. - blogger of the month  Julia Rubin-Smith