By Ayşe ARMAN
Her blue eyes radiate peace. Her voice flickers like candlelight. But what she does is so precious, so powerful, like moving the earth beneath our feet. Ayşen Erdil says people need health care, not money. An audiology specialist working at the American Hospital in Istanbul, Erdil's specialty is hearing and balance impairments. Her self-appointed mission is providing basic health care to people in rural Turkey and other countries who otherwise would have none. Along with a group of physicians, she formed an organization called Symbiosis, also called the Health and Nature Volunteers Association.
Keeping her word
A decade ago Erdil was talking with locals in a Turkish village when her fate took a dramatic turn. �They asked me, �What is your job?' and I told them. One asked, �Why don't you examine my ear?� while others complained of stomach and liver problems.� She found herself promising to return with doctors. When she reached Istanbul, she shared the promise with her colleagues and was surprised to hear them say, �OK, let's go.� �That was it,� Erdil said. �Looking in each other's eyes we ask, �Where are we going now?� She said many of the Symbiosis members spend their vacations volunteering.
During the last 10 years, she has traveled the often-neglected reaches of Turkey. After first traveling to the Selim province in the eastern city of Van, the group went to Gevaş, then Mardin, Kızıltepe, Delik, Nusaybin, Hakkari, Yüksekova and Şemdinli… Coming together as volunteer doctors, they made an effort not to create a stir as outsiders. �We were calling the governors of provinces to let them know that we intended to provide free health screening in their cities.�
The pain involved
Erdil says she and her colleagues return to the city with hundreds of stories, many of them painful. �Often we need time to recover.� After agreeing to a request by a prosecutor in the Gevaş province to do a screening in the prison, she was doing a hearing test in an isolated room when a huge man around 25 with a moustache entered the room. �My ears keep ringing,� he said. After she asked if he'd ever fired guns off at a wedding, he replied. �No ma'am, I was on the mountain for eight years.� Erdil recalled exclaiming, �Your mother must have been worried a lot about you! Aren't you ashamed of yourself for making her upset?� The tense young man began to laugh. The next day, the prosecutor told her, �They are called traitors and pricks but this is the first time I've heard someone say, �Your mother must have worried about you'.� The young man was a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the prosecutor told her. After many years, the young man called Erdil and said, �No one but you treated me like a human being. I will never forget you.�
Erdil's experience helps her to better understand the troubles her patients face if they come from a village, she said. �I'm aware of them because I've seen them.� In her view, the world is in bad shape and �this system� is a not a good one, but people can always lend a hand. �Anyone can come together and establish a civil society organization, be active and reach out to the needy. They don't have to go to Afghanistan. It is enough if they help people around themselves.�
Afghanistan's love for Turks
Erdil says it's tough not to cry in Afghanistan. �No child, no woman, no man, no human being deserves to live under such conditions,� she said. �It is misery. What is going on in Afghanistan is humanity's shame.�
In the last nine years, the world's superpowers have set up bases in Afghanistan where they live in their own cities, she said. �They have no use for Afghanis. For instance no vehicle can come within 200 meters of an American armored vehicle; U.S. soldiers are ready to use machine guns. Only vehicles with the Turkish flag cruise without guns. People in Afghanistan have so much love for Turks.�
Afghanistan has no concept of healthcare, Erdil said. Most of the general practitioners were educated in Turkey, and they lack X-ray equipment, laboratories and surgical facilities, she added. Two hospitals were founded by Turkey. In some places there is staff but no equipment and in others the opposite is true. There is an American hospital and they have laparoscopy machine. One of our managers was excited to show how the equipment worked, Erdil recalled, but it was not working properly. Afghanis tell her that they hate Americans.
�Half will die in war'
In Kabul, Vardak, Mezarışerif and Şibrigan, Symbiosis has given check-ups to about 1,500 Afghanis, some 800 of whom were children and the rest were women. �We had 700 kilograms of medicine and some first aid kits. We gave gifts and medicine to each child we examined.� She told the story of a 33-year-old woman who had given birth to 16 children. �Whenever I remember her my heart rips apart. She was not aware of birth control. I asked, �How will you take care of all of them?' She said, �Half of them will die in this war anyway.'� Afghanis live in fear, she said, adding that they were unable to make even a single child smile… �Nothing helped, not a chocolate bar, nor a doll, nor a toy…nothing.� There were diseases her group had never seen. Erdil and Symbiosis plan to return to Afghanistan to train obstetricians. According to statistics more Afghani women die in childbirth than any other group. �We will go this time with volunteer Turkish obstetricians to train young Afghani girls as midwives. There are some cases in which even a bit of information would have prevented death.�