With a text, this Australian aid worker was called up to help in Gaza. Here’s what he saw

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun17,2024
For Mark Myerson, it began with a text message from work at lunch.
“Hi Mark. How are you? Norwegian Red Cross approached us to see if we had a delegate who would be available to be seconded to the International Committee of the Red Cross to deploy to Gaza for four to five weeks,” the message read.
Myerson, an aid worker with the Australian Red Cross, was with his wife Katrina at the time, having driven home to Brisbane after a camping trip.
“She said, ‘I can tell by the look on your face. You really want to go, don’t you?'” he said.

“I just said, ‘Yes, I really, really want to go.'”

The next few months of Myerson’s life in Brisbane were put on hold to travel deep within a war zone.
“I confess there were some butterflies in my tummy, thinking about him going to Gaza,” his wife Katrina said.

“But I knew the need for assistance and for medical care was so great there.”

Building a field hospital in Rafah

Within two weeks, Myerson was travelling with an aid delegation through Egypt to the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where .
Israel has said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah, a city that had sheltered more than a million people before the latest advance began.

With his expertise in water and sanitation, Myerson joined a mission to build a functioning field hospital, operated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Two aid workers, one of which is wearing a Red Cross vest, whose face is blurred. They're standing on sand and there are large camp tents behind them.

Mark Myerson with an ICRC colleague in Gaza. Source: Supplied

With Rafah’s existing hospitals under extreme stress, more beds were needed to provide care for the growing population of displaced Gazans.

Myerson’s team had five weeks to transform a barren plot of land into a medical facility.
“It was go, go, go — we had people regularly asking, ‘When are you opening?'” he said.

The conflict, and the danger it posed, were ever-present.

As of 29 May, 255 aid workers have been killed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel, according to provisional data from aid consultancy organisation Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database.
According to the database, three aid workers were killed in Israel during Hamas’ 7 October attack. One aid worker was reportedly kidnapped in southern Israel and later died in Gaza, and another was kidnapped and their whereabouts are unknown.
The database is cited by the UN and media outlets including the BBC and New York Times.
“We would be seeing and hearing the active signs of conflict, feeling the shock wave from explosions,” Myerson said.

“There are moments when perhaps you forget [about the conflict], because you are becoming used to the environment and you are so focused on the work.”

A hospital under construction.

The ICRC Field Hospital under construction. Source: Supplied / Mark Myerson

‘Moments of hope and humanity’ amid conflicts

Myerson’s team worked from sun up to sun down to get the hospital up and running. On opening day, hundreds queued up to receive overdue care.
“One of the things that sticks in my mind is, we were also lucky to be there for the birth of the first baby at the hospital,” he said.
“There was a real elation and joy, in the medical team and the tech team.

“Those moments of hope and humanity that you see amongst the conflicts, those things are very, very special.”

An image on a monitor of a nurse holding up a baby.

The first baby born in Rafah’s ICRC Field Hospital. Source: Supplied / Terry Royan

‘Constantly in your mind’

Having spent six weeks in a war zone, coming home proved difficult.
“Not only are you leaving people in a very challenging environment with the active conflict, the local population are facing this day in and day out, and you get to come home,” Myerson said.
“That is a challenging thought.”
When disaster and conflict escalates, Australian aid agencies say they often experience a surge in interest from volunteers.
But international aid workers tend to make up the minority of frontline support.

“The vast majority of humanitarians are local. They’re living within their communities, they are volunteers,” said Australian Red Cross head of international programs, Adrian Prouse.

Days after Myerson returned to Brisbane, colleagues at the hospital he helped build faced a mass casualty event: .
An Israeli airstrike in late May triggered a fire that killed at least 45 Palestinians in the tent camp, officials said at the time. Speaking to parliament in the days after, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “something, unfortunately, went tragically wrong” and the strike had not been intended to cause civilian casualties.
The ICRC said the hospital received around 30 patients that night alone, seven in critical condition.

“Those people are constantly in your mind when you come back,” Myerson said.

The war between Hamas and Israel is the latest escalation in a long-standing conflict.
More than 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage by Hamas on 7 October, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s retaliatory air, ground and sea assault on Gaza has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in Gaza.

‘Why we do it’

Myerson’s time in Gaza was his third international deployment in the last decade.
He acknowledges the nerves are ever-present — but his motivation remains strong.
“Seeing such great need in these areas of the world, particularly conflict and disaster settings, for me, that was the driver,” he said.
In 2015, Myerson joined the rebuild team following devastating flooding in Malaysia.

His second visit to Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2018 was a twelve-month stint, in a dangerous region.

With long-term assignments, he said having the support of family is crucial. His wife Katrina is also an overseas aid delegate with the ICRC.
“We did a fair bit of time apart. I went to Rwanda, and then when I came back, Mark left for Malaysia, and then I went to Afghanistan,” she said.
“It was a little bit like ships in the night. But I think understanding why we do it makes a big difference.”

With additional reporting by Reuters.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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