White Helmets volunteer says world must join her
A White Helmets volunteer in Syria MOHAMAD ABAZEED/Getty Images
Date: 2019-04-20 15:13
In this op-ed, Amal Hamo, a Syria Civil Defense volunteer at the women’s center in Khan Sheikhoun, explains what she’s seen working on the ground as a White Helmets emergency medical volunteer in northwest Syria.
For the past two years, I have been a member of the White Helmets, Syria’s search-and-rescue organization that saves civilians from the frequent bombings that plague the country, dragging them out from under the rubble and away to get medical treatment. In my years as a volunteer, I have seen terrible things. But some of the worst sights have unfolded over the past few weeks, in the time immediately following the eight-year anniversary of the Syrian revolution.
Since February, the area where I live in northwest Syria has been under frequent bombardment from the Assad regime and Russia, jeopardizing the lives of the approximately 4 million civilians in the region. Since February, at least 190 people have been killed as of April 11, according to the United Nations, with all of us fearing that the regime now wants to retake the northwest.My fellow White Helmets and I are continuing to rescue and treat the injured, but it is growing increasingly dangerous for us to operate. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported that on March 9 and 10, two members of the White Helmets were targeted and killed in an airstrike, and I was forced to temporarily flee my home last month when it was bombed. Despite the danger, I refuse to give up my work, and I eventually returned, feeling I couldn’t abandon my city.
Being a White Helmet was almost predestined for me. After graduating high school, I went to study nursing and then got a job at a public hospital outside my town of Khan Sheikhoun. When the revolution began, in 2011, I started volunteering to go out with paramedics and rescue teams to help people injured by the regime’s crackdown on the protests. I volunteered with a group of rescuers and doctors for almost a year; we’d provide first aid and any medical help that we could to help patients. Although I wasn’t earning a salary, and our financial situation was difficult, I refused to stop helping my community.
During this time, I became aware of the work of the Syria Civil Defence — also known as the White Helmets — and how they’d rush into the scene of a bombing and risk their lives to save others. I was so proud of them and thought there couldn’t be a more noble work than theirs.
I learned from one of my friends, whose husband was a White Helmet, that they were looking to recruit more female volunteers for the women’s center in Khan Sheikhoun. My friends encouraged me to apply because of my long medical experience, but my husband feared the job would put me at risk. I pushed back and got his support, and I joined the women’s team in January 2017.
When I first started my job, I faced opposition from the men in my family and my community who couldn’t accept the idea of a woman working in search and rescue. In their opinion, it was a job for men only. But that didn’t hold me back; I kept persisting and was able to convince them that a woman can do anything a man can — if not more.
Because we live in a conservative society, male volunteers aren’t always able to treat or evacuate injured women or visit female patients at their homes, but we can. This is what encouraged the White Helmets to open women's centers all across the region, so everyone could access our services. Now, wherever my colleagues and I go, we’re met with nothing but respect and appreciation.
By Amal Hamo
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