Crystal Grymaloski with the daughter of a patient. Grymaloski says through gestures to overcome the language barrier, she reminded the Rohingya refugee of one of her four daughters. Photo credit: Contributed

Crystal Grymaloski with the daughter of a patient. Grymaloski says through gestures to overcome the language barrier, she reminded the Rohingya refugee of one of her four daughters. Photo credit: Contributed

Okanagan nurse assists Rohingya refugees

Crystal Grymaloski volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse disaster response mission in Bangladesh

When Crystal Grymaloski was enrolled in the nursing program at UBC Okanagan, the university encouraged students to become global citizens.

She has taken that message to heart, to look beyond our borders and help others in need around the world, having worked on previous nursing missions to Ghana, Nepal and New Guinea.

She also had the opportunity to travel widely with her parents and be exposed to other cultures in the world starting from a young age.

Having joined the Good Samaritan’s Purse last year as member of that Christian faith-based organization’s 900-member Disaster Assistance Response Team, Grymaloski received a deployment volunteer email on Dec. 5 and by Dec. 8 was on her way to Bangladesh to help Rohingya refugees fleeing from the ethnic cleansing campaign being waged in neighbouring Myanmar.

She also had done a nursing volunteer experience in nearby Nepal and was in India last year on a vacation, so she had some understanding of the terrain she was going to descend into.

“Because I’ve done this before I was able to get prepared quickly to leave and it was during a break from my studies right now so the timing was right,” Grymaloski said.

Related: Samaritans’ Purse offers support to B.C. wildfire, flooding victims

The 34-year-old Kelowna resident, who currently works casual nursing shifts at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, is presently enrolled in the nurse practitioner program offered by the University of Victoria.

During her time in Bangladesh from Dec. 8 to Jan. 3, Grymaloski was stationed in the southern part of the country, working out of temporary facilities set up next to the Memorial Christian Hospital.

She and other nurses worked on pre- and post-operative care needs for patients.

“Given the influx of refugees there, there was an increased demand for health care services so Samaritan’s Purse set up two temporary units next to the hospital and staffed those units with nurses and physicians,” she said.

“It is an adjustment going from a hospital here to that type of facility. You encounter a number of firsts in nursing care but you get yourself into the mindset of adapting nursing principles you have been taught. You have to adjust to the settings and resources around you and rely on what you know.

“Fortunately, the human body is a language all its own and that language is global.”

While she never felt endangered working in a security-controlled compound—“sometimes ignorance can be bliss”—the reasoning behind the refugee exodus from Myanmar remains a complex and confusing issue to rationalize in her own mind.

But what stood out for her was experiencing the inner beauty of the Rohingya refugees, which continued to shine despite their lives being turned upside down.

“What I tell people what has stuck with me is the people themselves and their culture. They are beautiful, lovely people who are very kind to each other and to those taking care of them.

Related: Armstrong purse project puts women first

“In the face of all the horrible tragedies they have gone through and uncertainty in their lives, they still retained that beautiful inner quality. Why there would be racial cleansing going on for such a beautiful culture is hard to wrap your head around.”

For Grymaloski, who is a native of Edmonton who moved to Kelowna in 2006, she said the bonding experiences with other nursing volunteers becomes the basis for enduring friendships, having already made plans to reunite this spring with two nurses she worked with in Bangladesh, one from the Lower Mainland and other from Vancouver Island.

Looking ahead, Grymaloski wants to focus on her nurse practitioner program, she hopes to turn her attention to South America on a future nursing volunteer endeavour.

“I’d like to one day make my way down there. Bolivia is a country that stands out for me as a particular area of interest. The rural mountain culture there is fascinating to me.”

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