Hundreds of bombs are dropped on Syria every day. The Arabian Republic is divided in several areas, whether controlled by governmental troops, or by one or more of the numerous rebels’ associations. The political and religious conflicts are carried out on the backs of the civilians. In the chaos of bombardments, assaults and assassinations, hundreds of people die every day. And humanity dies coincidently in this former so magnificent country. Inside all that darkness, a bright white light of humanitarian aid emerges out of the smoke and dust above the ruins of the cities: The White Helmets. Who are these volunteers? A look at the work of ambitioned first responders inside Syria.
Actually, this article could end right here, as there is no system of civil defense in Syria right now, at least as a governmental organisation. But in Syria the citizens take care of this by themselves. These are the people who do not want that war. Women and men who only desire one thing: to live. A few days ago the negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition parties ended in Astana (Kazakhstan). They were declared as “successful” and an “important contribution for the peace in Syria” by politicians. But the Syrian people did not rejoice. They have heard such sentences in the past few years way too much. Too often an armistice was proclaimed. But it was broken every single time.
So the civil war in Syria continues right in front of the eyes of the world. A military interference like a peacekeeping operation by the United Nations is currently not possible yet. The activities of single countries such as France, to send an aircraft carrier into the Mediterranean sea close to Syria, is discussed controversially even within the European Union. The fear of being attacked within the own country by “The Islamic State” (ISIL) due to an interference in Syria is an issue in countries worldwide. So most governments are cautious: A refugee program within the European Union shall give each country the possibility to make a contribution of humanity by the reception of refugees. At the same time the politicians are very cautious in granting humanitarian aid in the Syrian region.
… by whom? This is just one more point in that also religiously motivated dispute in Syria. But the parties have lost sight of the alleged reason for the war. It just goes on and on. And the population is suffering.
When the bombardment of civil buildings in rebel controlled areas began in 2013, and so the war finally escalated, there were no structures such as a civil protection that could provide care for the injured people or medical equipment to the survivors of the bombings, or even just water and food. As the international community did not intervene, the former officer of the British Army, James Le Mesurier, decided to found a charitable organization to provide humanitarian aid in the midst of the war zones of cities such as Aleppo, Homs or Damascus: He named them “The White Helmets”.
The white helmets are reliably estimated on a number of 2850 active volunteers. They are located in more than one hundred locations in all provinces of Syria. They want to help people inside the regions, where no one else wants to go voluntarily and where even international aid organizations are denied to access or where they can not endanger their foreign aid workers. Thus the white helmets are mainly active in the areas which are occupied by rebels and where even the few governmental help never arrives.
„And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” (Sure 5: 32)
The White Helmets are volunteers. They come from all sections of the Syrian community and they all belong to different religious groups. Their common goal as a White Helmet is to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of the war. There is no room to distinguish between gender, denomination, origin, or other irrational criteria.
The British filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel, nominated for an Academy Award for his war documentary “Virunga”, has created a masterpiece about “The White Helmets”. His work describes the situation of the people of Syria. Von Einsiedel is accompanied by three volunteers of the White Helmets. They risk their lives every time they do their jobs and become targets themselves again and again.
Before filming, von Einsiedel and his team were trained for five weeks on the border next to Syria with 30 further White-Helmets-To-Bes for their missions in the war zones. The White Helmets provide medical help, shed spills – whether dead or alive -, extinguish fires and offer solace. For the technical part Einsiedel and his team could be trained. But “nobody could prepare us for the daily nightmares,” the 36-year-old told on the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado (USA) in September 2016.
Omar Danqueesh became a symbol of the catastrophic conditions in Aleppo. The five-year-old, injured in an explosion, was saved by the White Helmets from the rubble of his house and put on a seat inside an ambulance car for further supply. The photo of Omar Danqueesh went around the world and moved people deeply. But he is just one of 60,000 documented saved by the White Helmets in Syria. Most of them are women and children.
Over the past three years, the White Helmets have worked more quietly and retired. Attracting whoever’s attention can end fatally. Though the White Helmets are in the focus of the world every time when reports about the atrocities in Syria, air raids with civilian casualties or an escalation between the war parties is broadcasted. If there are cameras to capture those big pictures for the TV, you will always see reporters standing in front of smoking fragments. In the future you should have a look at the people on top of the rubble: They always wear white helmets.
In 2016 the White Helmets were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize with 150 other aid organizations. The Colombian president Santos was awarded. As if the nominees were comparable …
Actually the commitment of prominent supporters like George Clooney or Justin Timberlake changes more. These world wired well known supporter bring the work of White Helmets to the minds of people all over the planet. Sometimes also into the thought of decision-makers: On 23 September 2016, for example, the White Helmets received the Alternative Nobel Prize. This was occasion for several Governments like the one of Germany to support the White Helmets with 7 million Euros.
(Photo: Netflix – The White Helmets)