Training For When Disaster Calls

Abdullah Shawky was not prepared for the crisis that his team of volunteers was faced with during the Syrian refugee crisis. A graduate from UTD, he was deployed with others to the island of Lesvos–just off Greece–where they assisted incoming refugees with language translation and helped sort them onto transportation vehicles which would take them to safe havens. Initially, they only saw 300 refugees, but after a few weeks, they were processing 7,000 refugees a day.

Shawky says that he wasn’t prepared for emotional taxation the service would take on him. In one case, an eight-month-old baby died despite their best efforts in taking him to see a doctor for care. The mother was only 19 years old. The loss was something that would stick with Shawky long after his return from Lesvos. It was also the first death that the volunteers faced.

Because of this experience, however, Shawky turned his efforts to training other students for volunteer services. He partnered with Islamic Relief, which a chapter of Islamic Relief USA focusing on colleges, which is devoted to training students for relief efforts. Shawky now serves as Islamic Relief USA’s programs coordinator. The organization’s board of directors include Hamadi Bengabsia, Khaled Lamada and Nancy Khalil. The training focused on three aspects of relief–disaster assessment, housing, and care work. With those three topics covered, he also trained the students in psychological first aid, CPR, first aid, food and clothing distribution, and constructing temporary shelters.

Shawky recalls feeling unprepared emotionally, primarily, for the service he provided for the Syrian refugees. The news reported on the Syrian refugee crisis was woefully underrated, giving only a small taste of the true scale of the suffering. As a result, Shawky and the other volunteers didn’t feel entirely prepared for their training for dealing with the crisis. Because of that, Shawky aims to train his students to the level where he feels that they’ll be prepared to tackle any crisis and have the confidence in themselves to serve the people in need.

With this focus on quality training, Shawky prides his team on turning out some of the most trained volunteers, a stark contrast to other organizations who take in volunteers who have not been equipped with the same level of training. IR will continue to train students in disaster relief efforts, offering courses during the week for those who cannot attend classes on the weekend as well as in the evening for busy students.