The war in Syria

Maria Santto / Finnish Red Cross
Twelve-year-old Abdul Rahman has cerebral palsy and can't walk on his own. Abdul has physiotherapy in the Red Crescent rehabilitation centre in Homs.
Image: Maria Santto / Finnish Red Cross

The Syrian conflict has been raging on for seven years, and it shows no sign of abating. However, people living in Syria are not losing their humanity.

A fighter plane roars in the sky. We can hear a loud boom and see a pillar of smoke grow in the horizon. A second and third pillar appear beside the first one. 

The mushroom clouds rise up as if in a slow-motion film. Finally, they blend into the haze hanging over East Ghouta.

It's 19 February 2018. The battles in the eastern parts of Damascus, the capital of Syria, have escalated. Twitter shows the horrors happening at the base of the smoke pillars almost in real time.

The victims are covered in concrete dust and blood. The reports say there are dozens of casualties.

We are close to the Old City, on the top floor of an 8-floor building that houses the first aid centre of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

About 15 young women and men are currently on duty. Some of them are receiving emergency calls in the operation room, and two first aid groups are ready to depart to help people.

The call receivers categorise the cases with colour codes. If the code is red, helpers from the nearest first aid centre will be alerted and sent to the location. There are a total of six first aid centres in the city.

In Damascus, emergency healthcare is largely provided by these altruistic volunteers.

Even though the workers do not get paid, they are no amateurs: the operations are very professional and well-organised.

The alerted group of helpers aim to be in the ambulance in two minutes and at the location in less than seven minutes.

"The hardest part are the situations where you've given your all but it hasn't been enough. I can't forget the people who have died. But these experiences make me try even harder," says Mohab Hamed, 23.

"For me, volunteering is a way to express myself, not just through words but also through actions. I think this is the best way to support society and humanity."

Through the window, we can hear the explosions again.

Three young university students – Ataa, Nur and Leen – sit calmly on the sofa. They are waiting to be sent on a mission.

En klinik full av olika öde

I Syriens kris har man tyvärr sett flera likadana humanitära katastrofer som i östra Ghouta.

Vi beger oss till Homs som ligger två timmar norrut från Damaskus. Genom bilfönstret ser vi en grå värld. Förstörda hus, nerfallna tak och plåt på gatorna.

För fem år sedan satt Nur al Mahmud, 17, bredvid sin bror i bilen. En mina förstörde Nurs hand som måste amputeras.Vi diskuterar med en ung kvinna på Syriska Röda Halvmånes rehabiliteringscenter i Homs.

Nur har fått en protes och rehabilitering på kliniken. Tack vare det fungerar den bättre.

- Att förlora en hand var först väldigt svårt. Jag bestämde ändå att göra mitt allt för att kunna fortsätta livet normalt. Jag går i skolan, bakar och vill bli antagen till universitet för att studera farmaci. Allt är bra nu, berättar han.

Tack vare människors goda vilja och uthållighet kunde man inleda verksamheten på kliniken i Homs. På kliniken i Homs har man hittills vårdat cirka 350 människor. Det handlar aldrig om ett enstaka besök utan bra resultat kräver ofta till och med år av arbete. För Röda Halvmånes hjälpare är resultatet ofta ännu mer belönande.

A clinic full of stories

Sadly, humanitarian catastrophes similar to the situation in East Ghouta are common in Syria. We travel to Homs, which is located north of Damascus, a two-hour drive away.

We look at this grey world through the car windows. Crumbled houses are barely standing; their roofs have collapsed, their steel reinforcement bars sticking out here and there.

Five years ago, Nur al-Mahmud, 17, was sitting in a car with her brother. A mortar round hit the front of the car and maimed Nur's arm. The arm was amputated.

Now, this young woman chats with us at the Homs rehabilitation clinic run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Nur has received a prosthesis and rehabilitation from the clinic, thanks to which the mobility of her stump has improved.

"Losing my arm was hard to deal with at first. But I decided to do my best to keep living a normal life. I go to school, I bake desserts and I want to go to university to study pharmacy. Things are good," she says.

Like many good things, the Homs clinic was born out of people's good will and persistence. The clinic has rehabilitated 350 people so far.

A single treatment session is not enough for any of the patients; good results can require years of work. Nevertheless, the final results are more than rewarding for the Red Crescent workers.

Fear won't win

In war-ravaged Syria, contrasts are stark. There are those who kill people, while others are doing all they can to help the victims.

In the centre of Damascus, restaurant tables are full of delicacies, while a few kilometres away, thousands of hungry people are hiding in the basements.

The Syria crisis has tried the limits of humanity in horrifying ways. Hundreds of thousands have died, and millions have left their homes. Three million people have been wounded in the fighting.

However, people's empathy and will to help are still strong, even amidst the atrocities. Humanity – the counterforce of suffering – will not disappear from Syria.

Three-year-old Jawal suffers from hydrocephalus and has been coming to the Homs rehabilitation centre for 2.5 years. With the help of physiotherapy, Jawal can now walk. "Jawal breaks a lot of things, but being able to walk is worth it. I'm so happy about that," says the mother, Maisaa.

Text: Ari Räsänen, Finnish Red Cross aid worker
Photo: Maria Santto, Finnish Red Cross aid worker