An update from the Syrian White Helmets: Choosing Hope

by | 29th Apr 2022

Recently, the Choose Love team were honoured and privileged to have spent time with The White Helmets. 

In the meeting, they spoke to us about the undeniable similarities between Syria and Ukraine. Since the Syrian revolutions started 11 years ago, Syrians, still to this day, face daily Putin-led bombardments and attacks. 

The overwhelming feeling that was portrayed by Raed Al Saleh, Chief of the White Helmets and his team, was solidarity with Ukrainians. Syrians know all too well what it’s like to face extreme violence in their home country at the hands of the Putin-led regime.

The White Helmets were formed in response to the urgent humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, who were, and still are, facing so much unjust and indiscriminate violence over 11 years on. Emergency services (such as the fire brigade) were told by their government not to respond to emergencies unless they wanted to risk prosecution. A group of volunteers rejected this and decided to choose hope, subsequently forming The White Helmets.

Over time, The White Helmets have developed and gained an enormous amount of experience in carrying out search and rescue missions, dealing with unexploded bombs and mines, and providing emergency services such as medical and mental health support. Raed and his team expressed their willingness to share learnings and advice from their own experience with volunteers; such as recommending responders to wear helmets mounted with cameras. This practice not only documents war crimes that can be later used as evidence but also creates the opportunity to share incredible stories of hope and humanity with the world.

You can hear Raed speak in this video for more.

Since inception, The White Helmets have:

➡️  Rescued 125,000 people from under the rubble

➡️  Grown their team of volunteers to 3,226 people, 280 of which are women across all structure points of the organisation – a number they aim to grow

➡️  Created 33 Centres specifically for women

➡️ Created dedicated training facilities and programmes for volunteers

➡️ The largest fleet of ambulances in Syria

➡️ Become the first responders to arrive after a crisis or attack

Whilst operating in Syria, The White Helmets have lost 294 volunteers in the field who have dedicated their lives to this work. That’s 10% almost of their organisation. We were reminded that, for every White Helmet, when saying goodbye to their family each day they do not know for certain if they will return home.

The White Helmets have also encouraged a positive cultural shift in Syria. Their motto, taken from the Qu’ran, is “whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity”. 

When asked what they want to be when they’re older, many Syrian children now respond ‘A White Helmet’—a sign of the hope, resilience and legacy that they have created.

The current situation in Syria, through the eyes of the White Helmets:

Since the Syrian revolution and the height of violence that Syria has been subjected to, there has been a little-to-no positive change from a peace/humanitarian perspective, we were informed by Raed.

The only clear change they have experienced is a decrease in support from the UK and international communities—which is down by 69%. In tandem, there has also been an increase in refugees and internally displaced people.

As of December 2021, 4.5 million people are estimated to be in North-West Syria – although there are no more current accurate reports. 

As of December 2021, 1.7 million internally displaced people are living in 1,398 camps or informal sites. 

As of March 2022, more than 3 million Syrian children are out of school.

A clear message was given during our meeting, addressing governments and boards:

“We do not need speeches of solidarity, We need you to consult with your conscience and stop killing civilians in Syria.”

Within the first year of the attacks on Syria, 50,000 attacks were recorded. In 2015, this grew to an estimated 2-3 million.

The White Helmets have seen the evidence that hospitals and healthcare centres are being targeted for attacks. They also reported that the Putin-led regime has rejected humanitarian passage, so the international community pressured Syrians to flee. This shifts the narrative to supporting fleeing efforts, rather than addressing the root of the problem—people should not have to flee their homes in the first place. Instead, the focus should be to stop bombing Syria, so that safe corridors aren’t needed in the first place. 

What you can do to support

➡️ Talk about Syria to your friends, family and colleagues. Keep Syria in the headlines and in conversations. Remember that despite the lack of headlines, unthinkable circumstances continue every single day in Syria.

➡️ Read up, stay educated. Stay informed about what’s happening in Syria and make sure your sources are reliable. Recommended accounts to follow on Socials: The White Helmets, The Syria Campaign, Waad Alkateab and Hassan Akkad.

➡️ Donate to ensure this incredible humanitarian can continue to save lives

➡️ Keep choosing to respond with love. Always.

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