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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Portrait of a Nation: Meet the Abu Dhabi nurse who runs towards a crisis

Nurse dedicates her time to helping residents of disaster-stricken countries

Emergency department nurse Elizabeth Gilmore spent a week in Bangladesh in April offering aid to Rohingya Muslims. Reem Mohammed / The National
Emergency department nurse Elizabeth Gilmore spent a week in Bangladesh in April offering aid to Rohingya Muslims. Reem Mohammed / The National

Elizabeth Gilmore sees beauty where there is nothing but disease and famine for miles around her. She sees hope and humanity where there is mostly despair and despondency.

The 29-year-old registered emergency nurse leader at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has spent the majority of her life volunteering in war-torn and disaster-struck countries.

The daughter of a nurse and a mechanic, she says: “it was only natural” that she would end up being an emergency nurse and a volunteer.

“For as long as I remember, my family and I volunteered,” she says.

Joining Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi from Baltimore, in America, in October 2014, Ms Gilmore seizes every opportunity to get on a plane to help out those who are most in need.

Her first volunteer trip was to Kenya in 2007, when she was 17. “I don’t think I was ever scared. I always took the necessary precautions.”

In 2011, she travelled to Honduras, where she worked for a startup clinic. The next year, she moved to Ecuador to help out at a mobile clinic treating tribes in the Amazon.

Two trips to Egypt soon followed, where she taught nurses basic emergency care.

“Typically I go with different groups and where opportunities present themselves. Once you get into the loop, you become aware of the different things that are going on.”

In 2015, she travelled to Nepal to help survivors of an earthquake that killed thousands of people. Her most recent trip was to Bangladesh.

Elizabeth Gilmore volunteers at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Courtesy Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi
Elizabeth Gilmore volunteers at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Courtesy Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

“Whenever I have time and I can, which is probably once a year, I will travel in order to volunteer.”

While most redeem their annual leave for holidays, Ms Gilmore uses hers to help others. “I do take some vacation time,” she says, modestly.

About 900,000 Muslim Rohingya now seek solace in shanty tents in Bangladesh after they were forced out of Myanmar in what the United Nations described as an example of ethnic cleansing.

Ms Gimore was eager to do everything she could to ease their suffering.

“Bangladesh was my first refugee exposure and was quite different from Nepal in the sense that Nepal was a natural disaster, but both are awful situations with thousands of people displaced and diseases that pop up when lots of people get together.”

Her wide smiles do not betray the amount of death and disease she has witnessed.

“I think we are quite privileged and have a lot of resources that so many in the world don’t have, so it is always an eye-opener. It is also always different in that, even if I have gone back to the same place, it is always a different experience and you meet different people who are going through different things which is also what keeps me going back," she says.

“Even though it is for short periods of time, not only do you feel that you are helping people but you also feel that you are getting something out of it.

“I feel like I am playing my part in humanity and for me it is a small sacrifice. If I can take some of my money and some of my time and I can aid you and make you feel better by getting you the right resources like a vaccination or an antibiotic for your infection for example – those are all really simple things but help in the bigger picture.”

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Yet what always strikes her the most is humanity.

“Volunteering has made me appreciate our differences. I appreciate humanity. Everyone is so different but I’ve always found beauty everywhere I have gone. People are always loving and accepting and it is basic humanity. We all have the same fears and needs. The need for love and companionship. When you strip everything back, all the basic needs are the same.”

Ms Gilmore plans to return to Bangladesh in February. She feels the refugees there are in the greatest need, particularly as monsoon season approaches.

“When I think of Bangladesh, the picture in my mind is when they took us to the middle of the camp on a small hill and I turned around 360 degrees and as far as your eyes can see was people upon people upon people.”

During her visit, officials estimated that there were close to one million refugees living in the camps. “And it is just growing and growing. The number of families and children and babies being born. It is a continual expanding population in desperate need," she said.

“If more people volunteered in smaller ways, it would make a huge impact."

The biog

Favourite pet: cats. She has two: Eva and Bito

Favourite city: Cape Town, South Africa

Hobby: Running. "I like to think I’m artsy but I’m not".

Favourite move: Romantic comedies, specifically Return to me. "I cry every time".

Favourite spot in Abu Dhabi: Saadiyat beach

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