Qatar and Syria: volunteers play key role in preparing for disasters

Published: 5 May 2006 0:00 CET

Saleh M. Dabbakeh, International Federation, Qatar

Twenty-six-year-old Firas has been a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent since 1998 and belongs to a growing number of volunteers in the Middle East and North Africa, who are specializing in disaster management.

He first became involved with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement after helplessly watching his favourite uncle die of heart failure, despite frantic efforts by the paramedics to save him.

At the hospital that night, Firas, who was 18 at the time, asked the doctor what he could have done to save his uncle’s life. The doctor, who also donated his time as a volunteer, directed Firas to the first aid programme at the Damascus branch of the Syrian Red Crescent.

Today, Firas is a regional disaster management trainer with the Red Crescent and recently took part in the first-ever disaster management camp to be held in the Arabian Gulf.

The desert camp, which was set up in Qatar in April, was used to teach a group of young trainee volunteers how to respond to a natural catastrophe.

“It took me nearly six years, several training courses and at least one disaster experience to become a trainer,” Firas says, wiping a trickle of sweat off his face as the searing desert sun beats down.

“This is my first training camp outside of Syria and today we had to provide shelter for over 300 children,” he adds.

During the training period, a large-scale simulation of a disaster was carried out, requiring Firas and other volunteers to provide food and shelter for 300 children, who were posing as victims, within less than an hour.

Back in the Syrian capital of Damascus, Firas is kept very busy helping his father with the family’s airport shipping business. But he always makes sure to set aside time for his volunteering work.

“Within the last few years, I have been able to save two people’s lives through simple interventions, including a 7-year-old child,” Firas proudly explains.

“By training others to be better prepared for disasters, I also indirectly help save lives and so I want to continue being a volunteer.”

In a disaster-prone area like the Middle East and North Africa, it would seem that Firas has the right attitude. The region needs more volunteers like him.