Humanity is fundamental for health volunteers in Syria

Published: 6 January 2014 15:44 CET

By Vivian Tou’meh, SARC

Maa'n and Basel were working at SARC’s response centre in al-Tijara, near Damascus when a mortar shell hit building on the 4 August, 2013. Maa’n lost a toe and Basel needed an operation to re-connect a tendon in his knee, which affects his ability to walk. Both of them have decided to continue their work as volunteers.

"A phone call from someone thanking you for help you provided during an emergency encourages you to continue volunteering," says Maa’n Nakaash who is 23 years old. He is studying medicine and is in his last year. "We learn a lot at university but here we learn about real actions in emergencies," he says. "When someone’s life is in danger, you can do something to save his life."

Maa’n joined the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in May 2013. He heard about the organization from friends. From their stories, he started to understand how SARC volunteers provide help to everyone in need. "When you volunteer, you give your best, but you also gain a lot of experience." Maa’n says.

Basel vividly remembers the first day he worked with SARC volunteers. It was in a shelter in Dahiat Qudsaia, northwest of Damascus. They were working together to provide shelter to displaced people and he discovered how he was happy when helping others. "It was the first time for me seeing that SARC volunteers were making a difference," he says. "My wish to provide assistance to others pushed me to volunteer with SARC. I always wanted to donate my time to serve my society, my people."

Although he was injured while carrying out his humanitarian duties, Maan’s family members continue to encourage and support him in his voluntary work. "My family trusts that this is my own choice. I want to help vulnerable people, especially because my family is also affected by these hard times."

Maan’s family was displaced from their home in Daria. They now live in al-Zahira. They know first hand the problems Syrian displaced by the fighting face when trying to cope.

First aiders face a lot of challenges in Syria today. "Of course, we need more capacities in the light of the situation," says Maa'n. "But it is not only the number of volunteers that makes a difference, it is also the response centers that enable them to carry out their humanitarian mission."

First aid must often to be provided in the shortest time. "Some emergencies take 12 to 13 minutes. That is the time it takes to be transferred to a hospital and save a person's life," says Maa’n. "We need more response centers, especially in remote areas."

When he started working, Maa’n was working 12-hour shifts. Now he takes shifts at the Emergency Operations Center, often seven days a week.

Maa’n says he will continue volunteering when the crisis ends as he believes that volunteering is an important part of his job as a doctor. "In Syria we do not have a lot of paramedics so I can make a difference," he says.

As events are in Syria show,  SARC volunteers are  increasingly vulnerable to attacks. Since the onset of the crisis, 33 volunteers from SARC have lost their lives and many more have been injured while working.

Despite of the dangers and the direct attacks, SARC health care workers and volunteers continue their mission in areas directly affected by the fighting, vaccinating children for polio around the country and providing health services to the most vulnerable. "We always want to assist," says Maa'n. "But there are still places where our ambulances and teams are unable to reach."

Learn more about what Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers do to improve access to health, promote community empowerment and ultimately contribute towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.