Three years into this terrible conflict, Syria's everyday heroes are still saving lives

Doctors and volunteers work for 18 hours a day, often with bombs falling around them

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The Independent Online

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the historian and Nobel laureate, once said that “the line dividing the good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”. Whether we know it or admit it, we are all capable of gross acts of evil, and of epic brave heroism. As a Syrian, I have witnessed for the last 3 years the sheer magnitude of the force of evil; at times it truly seems to know no bounds. What has not been much discussed is the incredible heroism that has been displayed by tens of thousands of Syrians. Not heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but ordinary everyday people who have carried out extraordinary acts, who whilst others have remained passive, have acted with bravery, selflessness and strength to help in the hardest of circumstances.

Heroes like 24-year-old Rania, an English Literature university student from Damascus who despite having no medical knowledge, enrolled as a volunteer at her local make-shift hospital after hearing they were short-staffed - and dozens more injured civilians were coming in every single day.  She told me “at the beginning it was really hard; I wasn’t used to seeing so much blood. It soon became so normal…The only thing that still makes me cry is the sight of bleeding children, especially when we can’t save them. The image of an 11-month-old boy dying in my arms will stay with me forever.”

Nearly 12,000 children have been killed in the last 3 years whilst thousands of healthcare workers like Rania have been imprisoned, killed or forced to flee. Yet she and many like her continue their dedicated work.

Heroes like Um Amr, a 63-year-old primary school headmistress in Homs, mother of four and grandmother to six. She to this day refuses to leave her heavily-bombarded neighborhood of north Homs and crosses conflict lines twice a day, five days a week so she can keep the school she runs open, so that local children can be educated despite the fighting. “We cannot abandon the generations of tomorrow” she says, “and this is my home”.

In the last 3 years students and schools have frequently and repeatedly come under attack and now over 2.2 million children inside Syria, and more than half a million refugee children outside,  are no longer at  school. These numbers are rising by the day.

Heroes like the Aleppo Medical Committee, an incredibly dedicated network of healthcare professionals who have refused to leave the devastated city. They work for 18 hours a day, with bombs falling around them and occasionally on them, and do this, day in and out for months at a time. One such hero, the only remaining physician anaesthetist called me a few weeks ago “M10 hospital is gone, a missile hit it a few hours ago, killed two patients, injured three staff members, a lot of the hospital is destroyed along with the operating room and the intensive care unit.  The area is now without a functioning hospital.”

 

In the last 3 years there has been systematic targeting and destruction of the healthcare system. In parts of the country up to 70 per cent of all healthcare facilities have been destroyed or rendered non- functional. In Aleppo, the largest city in Syria and home to millions of people, according to Physicians for Human Rights, some 250 doctors remain out of over 6,000. 

There are literally thousands of Syrians, everyday heroes, I could talk about. Professor Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University says that the same situation has the power to influence people in 3 ways. It can either inflame the hostile imagination of those who become perpetrators of evil, or it can ignite the heroic imagination of others or, arguably of greatest gravity, render most people passive bystanders guilty of the evil of inaction.

The Syrian people have suffered more than most can possibly imagine. March 15th will mark the third anniversary of this barbaric war on civilians and a campaign is gathering to both show solidarity and inspire political change. We've had three years of failure to end this appalling conflict, let's hope it can be stopped before yet another terrible anniversary. Will the world stand with the heroes of Syria?

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