Syria: how volunteers work in dramatic humanitarian circumstances

Publié: 16 août 2013 12:33 CET

By Vivian Tou’meh, Syrian Arab Red Crescent

As I enter the main emergency response centre in the Rural Damascus branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the room  is teeming with volunteers dressed in red overalls all marked with Syrian Arab Red Crescent emblems. All are trained volunteers. Some are taking phone calls, others are staring at computer screens showing the roads they can follow if they need to attend urgent cases, others are relaxing.

We met with first-aid responders, who are working 24/7 to carry out life-saving humanitarian work for their country. They respond to anyone who calls their emergency number from within the Rural Damascus area.

A simple message: please respect the emblems

Yamen Dawarah joined the Syrian Arab Red Crescent three years ago. During the last explosion in Jaramana in July, his leg was injured. He had been driving an ambulance and transferring injured people to hospital.

Despite this, he describes his willingness to do more. “Of course yes, I will continue helping people. If we don’t help, then who will? Particularly with the harsh conditions our people are facing every day.

“We are working in the humanitarian field and my family encourages me to continue helping people – and they are proud of that.”

His message is a simple one: “We Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers ask all Syrian people to understand and facilitate our humanitarian work. We ask all Syrians to respect the emblems.”

Like Yamen, Shareef al-Masri, joined the Syrian Arab Red Crescent since two ago. He has completed a course in first-aid training and advanced first-aid training. For him, it is all about the positive effects that volunteering has had on him as an individual and on their communities.

“We have to continue this work, it is the time to give our best,” he reflects. “Sometimes, a smile on a child’s face is enough to forget all the tiredness from the whole day.”

More than a willingness to volunteer

Majd Nasr, a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent for the past eight years, has been working in the first-aid team at the Rural Damascus branch for two and a half years, approximately when the Rural Damascus branch started its first-aid operations.

Talking about his motivation, he explains, “We must remain online to provide assistance to needy people and to new volunteers. Volunteers who have been trained by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and have the expertise must stay and teach new volunteers on how to deliver services in the right way.

“I chose voluntary work. It is the first objective in my life and now is not the right time to leave. Voluntary work in our society used to oscillate between presence and absence, rejection and acceptance.

“Now it’s different. Since the crisis began, enthusiastic and serious young people like Yamen, Majd and Shareef are living proof that there is now a newfound willingness for volunteering and for humanitarian work. Actually, it’s not just a willingness, it’s a desire to put it into practice.”

Fulfilling their mission with dedication

We get ready to leave the first-aid centre and to visit the relief distribution centre when an urgent message comes through: a mortar shelling on the fifth bridge on the airport road and there are injuries. They speed away in two ambulances to attend to the casualties.

It’s now evening at the main emergency centre of the Red Crescent’s Damascus branch in al-Zahera and emergency response volunteers are preparing the Iftar meals (the last meal of Ramadan). The urgent message comes through about the explosion in Jaramana.

The volunteers drive off with two ambulances to support their colleagues in Rural Damascus branch who are at the scene already. On this occasion, 25 injured people are transferred to hospital and the Red Crescent mobile health unit provides first aid where the bomb went off.

This is the life of a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent during the current crisis, even during holy month of Ramadan. We reflect on their dedication as we watch them hurriedly leave the dining table and their Iftar meal to fulfil their humanitarian mission.