The White Helmets – The volunteers who die saving lives in Syria
When they depart their homes in the early morning their goodbyes are an emotive mix of anxiety and love. After all they work in the most dangerous place in the world. They leave their wives and children with a real fear they will never see them again. At one time these volunteers were bakers, painters, carpenters, tailors. Just ordinary family men who without any upfront training experience have become part of a treacherous war where injury and death visit them daily.
Their job is saving lives, their bravery enormous. Their stated mission is to save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property. They are the first responders to bombs being dropped on apartment blocks, hospitals, houses and shopping areas in the relentless Syrian civil war and Isis conflict.
Officially they are known as the Syrian Civil Defense, all volunteers who receive a monthly $150 stipend. They have been nicknamed the White Helmets, the color of the hard hats they wear into war zones on rescue missions.
The bulk of their work in Syria consists of urban search and rescue in response to bombings, firefighting, medical evacuation, evacuation of civilians from danger areas, and essential service delivery.
“Barrel bombs – sometimes filled with chlorine – are the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today. Our unarmed and neutral rescue workers have saved more than 62,000 people from the attacks in Syria, but there are many we cannot reach. There are children trapped in rubble we cannot hear. For them, the UN Security Council must follow through on its demand to stop the barrel bombs, by introducing a ‘no-fly zone’ if necessary.”
Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets. …
In early 2013 British security consultant James Le Mesurier, started to train volunteers primarily as a response to the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian communities in rebel-held areas by the Syrian Arab Air Force.
SCD was formally founded in its current form on 25 October 2014.Since then, it has grown to a national organization of over 2,850 volunteers operating from 114 local civil defense centers across 8 provincial directorates
When the bombs rain down, the White Helmets rush in. In a place where public services no longer function these unarmed volunteers risk their lives to help anyone in need – regardless of their religion or politics.
“When I want to save someone’s life I don’t care if he’s an enemy or a friend. What concerns me is the soul that might die”
Abed – The White Helmets
The White Helmets mostly deal with the aftermath of government air attacks. Yet they risk sniper fire to rescue bodies of government soldiers to give them a proper burial.
As well as saving lives the White Helmets deliver public services and hope to nearly 7 million people, including reconnecting electrical cables, providing safety information to children and securing buildings.
There is little doubt that the work of these courageous volunteers is helping save lives and doing an incredible great community service. To the end of September 2016 the White Helmets had rescued over 65,000 people.
Tragically over 140 of their members have been killed, often when the warplanes return to drop more bombs on the same target. One can only wonder why.
Their commitment, support and love for their fellow citizens is in stark contrast to the Syrian leadership whose lust for power is killing, maiming and injuring innocent people. When Assad is hosting his nightly dinner and banquets, discussing with his generals how to inflict further casualties on the rebels in Aleppo, the White Helmets are digging through rubble in the hope they can save just one human life, whatever their religion, creed, culture or political view.