Driven to help the most vulnerable, Kalisse Barwich has found her calling halfway around the globe.
The 23-year-old registered nurse left for Bangladesh Monday (Nov. 20) to work for three weeks with Samaritan’s Purse at a hospital that’s treating Rohingya refugees. She’s one of seven Canadian nurses flying to the South Asian country to do this work.
Almost one million impoverished Rohingya people have fled violence in Myanmar and are now living in temporary huts, tents, and under tarps in refugee camps in Bangladesh. More than half of those who have arrived are children, the United Nations says.
Samaritan’s Purse Canada has deployed medical personnel to Bangladesh to help these refugees, and will work with local partners to distribute blankets, tarps, hygiene kits, and other desperately needed emergency items. The organization is also determining how its experience providing safe water in emergencies can assist Rohingya families.
“Homes were burned, people were brutalized, and those that survived fled with little but the clothes on their backs and maybe a few household items,” said Samaritan’s Purse Canada employee David Bock from a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
“The speed of this displacement has been almost unparalleled. These are very vulnerable people who need our help. But mostly importantly, our desire is to share the love of Christ, because what they need most is hope.”
A Trinity Western University grad, Barwich wasn’t sure about the specifics of what she’ll be doing in Bangladesh, nor does she know how many hours she’ll be working each day and week.
For certain, she’ll be deployed at a mission hospital as a ward nurse and will be living in the hospital’s compound, far from the creature comforts of her home in Cloverdale’s Clayton Heights neighbourhood.
“I think it’ll be dorm style is what I understand,” Barwich said. “A few people to a room, but they do have running water and electricity, they tell us.”
She’s preparing herself, mentally and emotionally, for the experience.
“From reports of previous teams that have gone, it is a lot of shrapnel wounds (and) burns, but then also a lot of malnutrition, diarrhea, vomiting… a whole range of stuff,” Barwich said.
The nurses have had some orientation leading up to the mission. At the end of September, Barwich travelled to Calgary where she took a four-day disaster response training course with Samaritan’s Purse to “give us an overview of what we can expect.”
“That was more general training,” she added. “Once we get into the country it’ll be more specific hospital protocols, but I think we’ll be pretty much right into the action right away, from what I know.”
Motivating Barwich is the work done by the late Mother Teresa and others like her who have dedicated their lives to advocating for the world’s most vulnerable people.
“As a Christian as well, I believe that I carry the hope of Jesus Christ,” she added. “That’s a reason why I went into nursing as well, to be able to physically help others who otherwise might not get medical care, but then also emotionally and spiritually, as well.”
Barwich is taking a leave from her nursing jobs at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital to volunteer overseas.
“I really love the work that Samaritan’s Purse does,” Barwich said. “They do everything with excellence, both their development side and disaster relief side.”