[ Stories from Dr. Yukari ]
Hassan Akkad (33) was a high school English teacher and an amateur photographer in Damascus just before the civil war broke out in Syria around ten years ago. Today, he serves as a part of the cleaning staff at a hospital in Leytonstone, roughly 30 minutes east of London, UK.
At the entrance of the hospital ward where he works, a large sign is displayed reading “No Visitors” and “No entrance without PPE”. Akkad wears gloves, a face shield, double face masks, and spends around eight hours a day cleaning with Clorox everything from doorknobs, sinks, faucets, and switches. In his training, he was taught that even after the passengers have left the cruise ship, the Covid virus can survive for as long as 17 days.
When a Covid patient is discharged or deceased, he and his team have to conduct a so-called terminal cleaning process which involves discarding everything the patient used. Akkad works on cleaning surfaces from top to bottom, inside and outside medical equipment, bed frames, windows, walls, and floors. He repeats this rigorous cleaning process twice. Once he has finished cleaning, he then discards the mop and other cleaning items including his gown and protective gear. This cleaning process takes up to two hours to complete at a time.
Not just in England but in many developed countries, recent immigrants including a lower income population are often subjected to jobs that many people do not want to do. One of which involves cleaning the Covid-19 wards in many hospitals. Akkad on the other hand chose to do this job.
One day when he was still in Damascus, he participated in a street protest against the Syrian government policy. He filmed the demonstration and was later arrested for doing so. For two weeks, the police tortured him by breaking his fingers and beating his arms and legs. In fact, his wrists completely fractured from the repeated beatings he took. Luckily, he was later released from the cell but was later fired from a teaching position he held and struggled to find other jobs.
The Syrian civil war broke out around March of 2011 killing 37,000 civilians including teachers, doctors, store clerks, drivers, mothers, and children. About 60% of the population, which is roughly 13 million, soon became refugees. Out of the 13 million, 5.6 million including Akkad managed to escape their homeland. This Syrian civil war is not a war that happened a long time ago, but it is in fact, a war that IS still happening today. People with smart phones under the ruins try to reach the rest of the world for help on online platforms including as social media.
Before he began working as a cleaner, Akkad made a documentary video called Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. The film recorded his 87 days of escape from Syria and his documentary even received the honorary BEFTA award as the best documentary in 2017. His first trial with leaving a Turkish refugee camp was unsuccessful and 63 passengers including 10 children were taken back to the camp. Once again, with 45 people, Akkad attempted to escape in another boat but the Greek Coastal service destroyed their boat engine. The younger men on board worked to push the boat by swimming with the older people and children staying on board. Miraculously, they reached a Greek island known as Lesbos and took a journey to find a country to live in. After months of traveling to seven different countries, Akkad finally was accepted into the UK as an asylum seeker.
Akkad’s journey did not end when he settled in England especially because he knew he was one of the lucky ones who made it out safely. Many of his fellow country men and women are still under fire or living in inhumane conditions whether it is in Syria or in other refugee camps. He continues to send messages through Instagram about the political and medical war.
As soon as Akkad arrived in England, he volunteered to work for Covid patients. Many of the patients were dying without their friends and family around. Despite injuring his wrists because of the constant cleaning work, he still continues to work. Sometimes, he feels that his emotional pain is far more intolerable than the physical pain he experienced when thinking of his friends and relatives from Damascus. On the other hand, he still accompanies lonely patients who are isolated in hospital rooms on the Covid wing.
Hassan Akkad may not be known as a prominent hero whose name will go down in history, I feel that he still demonstrates heroism by tirelessly working for people in need with a mop and Clorox in either hand.