Australian human rights campaigner Helen McCue, 70, met Lebanon-based Palestinian refugee Olfat Mahmoud, 59, while nursing in a Beirut hospital. Olfat’s quiet strength inspired Helen to change her career path.
OLFAT: I was in the Gaza Hospital, Beirut, in 1982, treating a family who were injured by a cluster bomb, when someone said: “There’s a foreigner waiting for you outside.” She was wearing a light pink dress and said, “I am a nurse if you need a hand.” I said, “Today is not a good time.” After three hours she was still there, she was very determined. Even that first day, she told me: “It seems we will work together. We will get on well together.’’
I introduced her to friends and family in the nearby refugee camp where our family fled to from Palestine in 1948. Helen became like a family member. When she stayed with us in the camp, my family looked after her. My father would get her the food she likes, especially eggplant stuffed with minced lamb.
She realised most of the nurses in the hospital weren’t qualified and said, “I can train them.” I was impressed; she’d left her job as a consultant to come and do volunteer work.
When she left after six months, we kept in touch. She told me she was building an aid agency, Union Aid Abroad. I came to Australia in 1984 with three other Palestinian nurses. We went to community health centres to observe how they worked and to receive training