A Perth veteran who served in East Timor and Afghanistan has taken leave from his day job as a firefighter to shoulder the burden of a different battle.
Alex Galonski was compelled to travel to Bangladesh last month to help the more than half a million Rohingya people who have fled their ethnic homeland of Rakhine State, Myanmar, for the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh.
The 30-year-old was part of the second Disaster Response Group deployed by the Australian NGO Backpacker Medics, made up of paramedics, nurses and psychologists.
After leaving Perth in late October, he spent 16 days travelling on foot between refugee camps carrying specially designed backpacks full of medical supplies to people in remote areas.
Now back in Perth, Mr Galonski said that although he is an army veteran and first response worker, nothing could have prepared him for what he saw in Bangladesh.
“The sheer volume of the suffering, the magnitude of trauma these people have experienced is overwhelming,” he said.
“You see children with multiple bullet wounds, most of the people I spoke to had lost at least one family member and there were countless horrific stories from the Rohingya people of rape, abuse and torture at the hands of the Myanmar Army.”
“One lady had fallen pregnant after being raped and was crying tears of relief when she miscarried because she didn’t want to bring a child into these conditions.”
Mr Galonski said his life motto drew him to the cause. “I just think ‘if not now then when, if not me then who?”
“You help who you can, whoever isn’t too far gone, but sanitation, malnutrition, disease, fever, illness, lack of running water and the vulnerability of girls to child trafficking are all major concerns.”
He said he was surprised by the gratitude shown to him by the Rohingya people.
“The Rohingya people are such beautiful, resilient people. We would be walking all day in between camps and they would run to get us plastic chairs so we could sit and rest in between, they were so grateful we were there.”
Backpacker Medics was founder by Nathan Burns, an Edith Cowan University trained paramedic and winner of a 2010 West Australian Ambulance Service Award, to provide medical assistance to those most in need in remote locations.
In a video sent to WAToday, Nathan can been seen explaining how the Rohingya people were shot whilst sleeping, a story that’s supported by the bullet holes in his patient’s feet – injuries consistent with a horizontal position.
The wholly volunteer and donation-based organisation works beside existing organisations to deliver mobile pre-hospital care and education and are returning to Cox’s Bazar on the 23rd of this month to train the Rohingya people to be first responders.
Since August 5th more than half the Muslim population of Rakhine state have fled in just 10 weeks following what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights has described as “a text book case of ethnic cleansing”.
Donations to the Rohingya Mission can be made at:https://chuffed.org/project/bpmdrg-bangladesh