We here at the Daily Outsider had a goal to be a voice--and as we wind down 2020, we want to provide an update courtesy the Syrian White Helmets whom despite all the challenges, have done such heroic work.
My name is Ayman and I’m the head of communications for the White Helmets. My job is to deliver the stories of the White Helmets’ life-saving work to you and the broader community of humanitarians who support us. As 2020 finally comes to an end, I wanted to write to you about our work and how our teams are adapting to unprecedented challenges.
The year started with the heaviest attacks on Idlib since the beginning of the conflict. Between January and March, our volunteers saved 1,174 civilians from under the rubble. Sadly we couldn’t save everyone. At least 515 civilians were killed by Syrian regime and Russian bombs in that period.
In March a ceasefire agreement was brokered, allowing for a period of relative peace despite ongoing violations by regime and Russian forces. Our teams used that opportunity to provide essential services to help the nearly 4 million civilians in that area recover. We conducted 3,157 rubble removal operations, rehabilitated 914 public facilities such as schools and bakeries, opened 3,621 roads, conducted 6,169 water refills for families living in displacement camps, and disposed of more than 22,000 unexploded ordnances.
Then COVID-19 hit, posing a massive challenge on our teams and communities, especially the more than 1 million internally displaced people living in overcrowded camps. We knew we had to step up -- it’s part of the pledge each man and woman makes when they join the White Helmets -- to save lives and restore hope to communities.
With the pandemic spreading in Syria’s neighboring countries, cross-border aid deliveries became even more difficult. We transformed our small uniform production facility into a production line of masks and Personal Protective Equipment for health workers, and established an oxygen cylinders factory to supply hospitals and medical centers amidst severe shortages. We continue to provide ambulance services to transport COVID-19 patients to quarantine centers and hospitals.
The White Helmets women-led teams have played an essential role in raising awareness about COVID-19. Since March, volunteers conducted 17,614 educational sessions including visits to families in displacement camps. In addition, the women’s centers continued to provide medical and first aid services to families including newborns.
As winter sets in, our biggest fear is for a new round of intense aerial attacks that would cause new waves of displacement. There is nowhere left for people to run and the conditions are already dire in the tents, many of which are drowning in mud and rain floods.
As we wrap up 2020, we mourn and honor the nine volunteers we lost this year. Mohamad Al-Assad and Othman Al-Othman were deliberately targeted by the Syrian regime and Russia while on duty. Along with seven others who died in traffic accidents or of chronic diseases, they’re among 288 volunteers we have lost since we started doing this work.
We have all learned a lot this year, and the most important thing I learned is that there’s always a chance for humanity to stand together. I know that because of the support and solidarity we receive from people like you around the world. My wish is that our volunteers will not spend 2021 digging civilians from under the rubble left by bombing, but helping them return and rebuild their homes.
Ayman from the White Helmets