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My experience volunteering overseas

raya cupler

Growing up in the Middle East, I was always keenly aware of the human cost of conflict.

At a very young age, I experienced first-hand the effects of war and terrorism, which resulted in my family being quickly relocated to the United States, forcing us out of the only home we knew.

Because of my personal experience, it’s easier for me to relate to the trauma people face when being displaced because of war. Now a pre-licensure nursing student at Chamberlain University in Columbus, Ohio, I am striving to stay involved and make a difference to people who are currently undergoing similar experiences my family and I went through.

In the winter session of 2016, while still taking online Chamberlain courses, I decided to volunteer my time for two-and-a-half months in Syrian refugee camps in both Jordan and Lebanon.

“I was able to connect with these girls who opened up to me about what was going on in their households or tents”

The camps were near the border and within walking distance of Syrian cities that were being bombed and hit by chemical attacks. Working with several non-governmental organizations, I had the opportunity to rotate through many specialties including primary care, women’s health and surgical teams.

I also cared for many child brides, some as young as nine years old, that were married for financial or safety reasons but weren’t physically or psychologically mature enough for everything that marriage includes.

Because of my background, fluency in Arabic and French, and familiarity with the Arab culture, it enabled me to establish a connection with these girls and allowed them to open up to me about what was going on in their households or tents.

Although most of what I witnessed was incredibly heartbreaking, my hands-on experience with these refugees both impacted my personal and professional life and will continue to stand firm with me as I further my career in nursing.

Due to my experiences, the limited resources available and the dynamics of war, I was required to think outside the box and develop a unique skillset that I will continue to utilize throughout my career as a nurse.

“This laid the foundation of what I am ultimately striving to do in my career and provided the motivation to create a better world for the innocent victims of disaster”

The refugees I cared for offered me much more than I could have ever given them. Seeing the resilience of humanity is what continues to drive me toward my goal of creating a better world for refugees.

It’s often easy to forget how privileged we are when living in a place where safety and an abundance of food is entirely available. While there may be crime every so often, we don’t feel genuinely afraid every day in our community.

But, to witness that we as humans can survive that fear and even thrive, I think is incredible.

My time volunteering in Syrian refugee camps opened my eyes to new possibilities, skill sets and allowed me to work with families who have had similar experiences to myself, though I was very privileged in my experience due to the benefits of being American.

This laid the foundation of what I am ultimately striving to do in my career and provided the motivation to create a better world for the innocent victims of disaster. Being involved and serving a community in conflict was surreal and I hope to return to other countries facing disaster, as a nurse.

I continue to mentor young Syrian refugees who have relocated to the United States, and volunteer in a free clinic in Columbus which is aimed at refugees. This allows me to continue my work for refugees while I finish my BSN at Chamberlain.

In my time as a volunteer, I realised the impact nurses have on people and that they can change a person’s life through care.

It is an honor and privilege to be part of the nursing profession and to have a direct impact on transforming healthcare and the lives of those you care for. 

Raya Cupler is a pre-licensure nursing student at Chamberlain University College of Nursing

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