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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

With volunteers risking their safety, humanitarian work has become part of fabric of community in Homs, Syrian Arab Republic

© UNICEF/ Syria 2013/ Hassoun
Children make their way to remedial classes at one of the shelters for displaced persons in Homs, Syrian Arab Republic. There has been a recent influx of displaced persons requiring shelter in Homs.

By Alma Hassoun

Volunteering has become part of the fabric of community in conflict-torn Homs, Syrian Arab Republic.

HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic, 8 April 2013 – During my recent mission to Homs, I met medics who work with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), as well as volunteers with major local NGOs, all of whom risk their lives to help people.

These volunteers, often younger than 25, play a major role in delivering desperately needed assistance – some of it provided by UNICEF.

Young volunteers in a crisis

The office of SARC is in a neighbourhood spared the intense conflict that the city has experienced. To reach it, you have to drive through streets that are almost empty, especially in the late afternoon.

The day of my visit was quiet; sounds of fighting were only occasionally heard in the distance.

In one of the shelters, I met Yassin*, 23, who has been in the fifth year at the chemical engineering college for two years. He has been volunteering with SARC since 2010.

“I was supposed to be now in a European city, continuing my studies, but here I am!” he said. “I have not graduated yet. I manage to study at night with other volunteers residing in the same shelter.”

© UNICEF/ Syria 2013/ Hassoun
According to a volunteer with an NGO providing remedial classes at one such shelter, “No one feels good, these days, but helping people gives me peace of mind.”

The SARC volunteers I met were under 25 years old. Some have volunteered for years, while others joined the humanitarian force when crisis erupted. Their stories revolved around memories of witnessing death, casualties and suffering.

Listening to those young volunteers talking passionately about what they face was inspiring.

“My life has changed”

“My life has changed when I helped, for the first time, to save the life of an injured person,” said a SARC medic, 24, with intense dark brown eyes. “Before that, I never imagined that I will even ride in an ambulance.” He told me how he had once recognized the face of a classmate among the injured.

I spoke to another SARC medic who said he had cried deeply when he saw an injured person for the first time. Months later, he, himself, was injured during a mission. After physiotherapy, he can now move his arm, but he cannot yet move his right fingers fully. “My two siblings started volunteering with SARC after this incident,” he said, proudly.

A friend of his, another young SARC medic who was with him in the ambulance that day, eventually died from his wounds. The training room in the SARC centre was named after him, as was a baby born with support from the SARC team.   

As I spoke with different volunteers about their experiences as medics, providers of psychosocial support, aid distributors and teachers, I found it most striking that these people manage to transcend their personal suffering and loss to support the massive number of people in need in their city. Many said there is no room in their lives even to consider planning for the future.

Humanitarian work the fabric of community

The streets of Homs are not crowded, unlike its schools and other buildings sheltering large numbers of internally displaced persons, especially after a recent wave of displacement.

I visited a school in a quieter part of the city, where displaced families are sheltered. A local NGO, with support from UNICEF, is providing remedial classes for children.

I met a mother of four who had never worked but is now volunteering with this project. “No one feels good, these days,” she said, “but helping people gives me peace of mind.” Last year, her family fled Homs for Damascus, but she and her children recently returned, to her parents’ house.     

Humanitarian work has become part of the fabric of community here.

Some volunteers have also motivated younger people to become volunteers, as well. The youngest volunteer I met was a 10-year-old displaced boy. He said he often sees UNICEF’s trucks filled with boxes of supplies and he likes to help the NGOs while they distribute the kits for children. He told me that he likes to be “always ready to help people when needed”.



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UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis


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