Volunteers make a difference every day to the people of Syria

Published: 16 August 2013 11:13 CET

By Vivian Tou’meh, Syrian Arab Red Crescent

Stranded, anxious and sick, the people we meet accept their current situation and yet have enough strength to continue their lives. Men of all ages, women and children wait inside the polyclinic, which was the first stage of our journey in Jaramana city.

This polyclinic offers a range of services – including internal, gynaecology, paediatrics, ophthalmology and a dental clinic – in addition to laboratory and x-ray services. The ophthalmologist tells us that around 20 people visit this clinic on a daily basis.

Life-saving medicines

During our visit, we meet 74-year-old Alia Mustafa. Along with with her 58-year-old daughter who suffers from partial paralysis, she managed to survive the clashes that took place in her neighbourhood of Deir Ezzor for more than 14 months. Now, they are living here in Jaramana in Rural Damascus in a house that a friend of the family is letting them use.

Alia visits the polyclinic regularly as she is suffering from anaemia and recently had a stroke. She has enough medicine and says, “Thanks to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, I was provided with treatment and medicines for free. They also gave me a food parcel in the other centre.”

A man called Mohammad al-Mahmoud approaches me. He was living in Maskanah when his house was destroyed. He fled the violence in Maskanah and spent 12 days living in a camp on the airport road in the suburbs of Damascus. Fighting there forced him to flee again, this time to Jaramana. Mohammad and his 14 sons and 16 grandchildren are living in an unfinished building. He says, “We have been there for 40 days and we have no place to go.”

Mahmoud is at the the polyclinic to get treatment for ischaemia and is carrying the aspirin and blood pressure medication he needs – all of which were free from the Red Crescent.

To overcome the shortage in medicines and medical supplies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) provided medicines for free for displaced Syrians in the 11 polyclinics that it supervises in cooperation with Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The polyclinics are spread across the country in al-Qamishli, al-Hasakeh, Dweilaa, Homs, Palmyra, al-Boukamal, Daraa, Manbj and al-Othman polyclinic in Damascus.

Providing food and shelter

Displaced people find their resources and savings are rapidly depleted. Many don’t have access to basic services and many live in conditions of extreme poverty.

We head to a kitchen, which is supervised by a community relief committee in Jaramana and supported by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The Red Crescent provides this kitchen with food parcels based on the number of families who are living in the shelter. It houses around 50 families, around 350 people. Other items, such as gasoline, vegetables and meat, are bought with community donations.

The relief committee consists of 40 people who have all carried out disaster and first-aid training courses at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Volunteers from the committee – together with some of the shelter’s residents – cook on a daily basis for displaced people who are living inside the shelter. During the holy month of Ramadan, they are also preparing some drinks and salads in addition to the main dish.

More help is needed

At the busiest Red Crescent centre where relief items are being distributed, men and women are queuing up to receive their aid. Some are able to manage, others are not.

In addition to losing their land and homes, people have been forced to search for a new source of income. Sabhaa Ibrahim al-Khalaf, is a mother of ten, who fled from Mohassan area in Deir Ezzor and, until recently, made a living from selling bread as a way of boosting their income. Together with her husband and ten children, Sabhaa lives in a factory in al-Mlehah in the suburbs of Damascus.

She approached me for a help and said: “Please help me to get blankets and mattresses we need them... winter is coming. We do not have a source of income. We came here to get the food parcels, which we get usually each three months. Of course, we thank you, but this aid is not enough we are 12 people,” she laments.

The humanitarian needs in this country are huge and Sabhaa is not an ususual case. More humanitarian supplies and support are greatly needed.

Living the moment

Then we visit the shelter of al-Malaab al-baladi. Despite being full of displaced people who have lost everything, it is full of life and vibrancy. Some people are resting, others are sipping tea and chatting.

Amani, a small 12-year-old girl, is looking after her siblings, helping to wash the dishes and clean the floor. Her mother is peeling the potatoes in the kitchen. Amani is just one of many children living inside the shelter.

The children gather around with smiles on their faces. They are living the moment and, for the moment, they are happy just to be together and playing.