Somaliland 2019: Flipped Switch (Ashley’s Reflection)

by Ashley Carter, volunteer with M2H in Somaliland 2019

Throughout the last few weeks, I have had a real opportunity to digest everything that happened during this trip to Somaliland and Ethiopia with Mission to Heal. Let me start by saying what a transformative process this was. I went on this mission with the goal of putting myself in the doctor’s shoes, because this is what I want to do. I think it’s easy to think you know what you want to do as a pre-med student, but when you get into it, you realize it’s not for you. By then, it’s too late. After I went on the mission, I not only came to the conclusion that this will do, but I also realized that this is what I am good at.

During this mission, I witnessed some of the most shocking yet fascinating medical cases, many of which surpassed even my wildest imaginations. Although one might suspect that these medical cases stuck out to me the most during the mission, it was actually the people. It was the individuals that I met along this trip who have left a lasting impact on my life. Every single person found a way to make themselves useful and go above and beyond. From our gracious mission leader Bart Kruijsen, Somaliland liaison Ismail Gardo, to the brilliant Dr. Sabra Aqil, and so many more. I must say thank you to everyone affiliated with Mission to Heal for all of the love and guidance you gave me.

First, Dr. Sabra Aqil is an incredible doctor in Somaliland. Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise comes to my mind whenever I see her. Coming from a war-torn country herself, she finds the strength to give the people of Somaliland all of herself. I intend to keep in contact with her and follow her on her journey. I hope she may get the opportunity to advance her skills and become the surgeon she deserves to be.

Dr. Sabra Aqil (left) and Ashley Carter (right) in Somaliland


Dr. Glenn Geelhoed aka Dr. G., the man who has an inspirational quote for everything and somehow finds a way to look at the glass as half-full even in the most atrocious situations. Reminding me often that things do not go according to plan, but usually better. Dr. Glenn approached every case with a curiosity and sense of eagerness, passing that vitality along to all the doctors and medical professionals he was there to teach. He created a culture for the mission that was based on hard work, compassion, and resilience. I believe he left this sentiment to all of the individuals he met throughout this mission.

In addition, I do not think that the mission would have been as successful as it was without the determination of Dr. Daniel Vryhof. If I ever want to go on a journey to help change the world, I know who I need to call. Dan has this aura of calmness that surrounds him, that brought structure to the mission. Bringing his skills and resourcefulness to an emergency room in Somaliland that was not even equipped with an ambulance, he taught me that you must work with what you have, and not complain about what you don’t. Dan carried the same energy with him everyday in every situation, as he would if he was practicing medicine in a heavily funded emergency department in the United States. This attitude is a light on the hill of what a doctor should be.

The mission would not have come full circle for me without the time I spent with Dr. Gail Rosseau. As I type this, even I have to chuckle in amazement. Dr. Gail is not the typical image of a neurosurgeon that one would expect. Not because she is a female, but because she is relatable. As busy as one can expect a neurosurgeon to be, Dr. Gail would always take the time to ask waitresses, drivers, and patients, “how are you doing today?” This may not seem like a big deal, but when you go through life feeling forgotten about, and someone who you assume thinks the world of themselves takes time to care how you are doing leaves a lasting impact on you. Dr. Rosseau also taught me a valuable lesson in time management. No matter what you have going on, there will always be downtime. What we choose to do with it is what separates us. She never wasted a moment, always finding a way to help whether that was through her expertise, writing papers to help put Somaliland on the map, or shining a light on the potential for neurosurgery in Somaliland. She allowed her ambition to lead her.

All of the doctors who came along the trip taught me that there is a responsibility that comes with being a doctor. It’s not just about what you know or don’t know, but about how you go about helping. No matter where you go in the world, what language you speak or don’t, people can understand your heart and your intentions. Yes, some may say, “it doesn’t matter. They should just be grateful that they are even receiving help.” But nobody wants to be made to feel like a charity case or less than. They too have dignity and deserve the utmost respect, and I am proud to have been with a group that honored that.

A hurtful truth I learned on this trip is that most of the people in the world who suffer from medical complications suffer from preventable conditions. If only they had the resources, if only they have the information, if only we as privileged individuals would take one moment to recognize the responsibility we have to those without access to medical care. This experience magnified something that I have always felt in my heart. Although I live in the United States of America in 2019 as a black first generation immigrant Muslim woman, I too have a privilege. And I must use my time, energy, education, and love to help the furthest peoples first.


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