On the 3rd Anniversary of the crisis in Syria it's time we celebrated the unseen heroes of the conflict and stand #WithSyria
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the historian and Nobel laureate, once said that "the line dividing the good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being". Whether we know it or admit it, we are all capable of gross acts of evil, and of epic brave heroism. As a Syrian, I have witnessed for the last three years the sheer magnitude of the force of evil; at times it seems to truly know no bounds. What has not been much discussed is the incredible heroism that has been displayed by tens of thousands of Syrians. Not heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but ordinary every-day people who have carried out done extra-ordinary acts, who whilst others have remained passive, have acted with bravery, selflessness and strength to help in the hardest of circumstances.
Heroes like 24 year old Rania, an English Literature university student from Damascus whom despite having no medical knowledge, enrolled as a volunteer at her local make-shift hospital after hearing they are short staffed so that she could help healthcare workers look after the injured civilians coming in their dozens every single day.
"At the beginning it was really hard," she told me, "I wasn't used to seeing so much blood. It soon became so normal... The only thing that still makes me cry is the sight of blooded children, especially when we can't save them. The image of an 11 month old boy dying in my arms will stay with me forever."
Nearly 12,000 children have been killed in the last 3 years whilst thousands of healthcare workers like Rania have been imprisoned, killed or driven to flee. Yet she and many like her continue their dedicated work for the chance to save a life.
Heroes like Um Amr, a 63 year old primary school headmistress in Homs, mother of four and grandmother to six. She, to this day refuses to leave her heavily bombarded neighborhood of north Homs and crosses conflict lines twice a day, five days a week so that she keeps the school she runs open, so that the local children, despite the war can get an education.
"We cannot abandon the generations of tomorrow," she says, "and this is my home."
In the last 3 years students and schools have frequently and repeatedly come under attack and now over 2.2 million children inside Syria, and more than half a million refugee children outside, are no longer at school. These numbers are rising by the day.
Heroes like the Aleppo Medical Committee, an incredibly dedicated network of healthcare professionals who have refused to leave the devastated city along with thousands of their colleagues so that they can help save the lives of the majority civilians injured when they arrive at their hospitals. They work for 18 hours a day, with bombs falling around them and occasionally on them, and do this, day in and out for months at a time. One such hero, the only remaining physician anaesthetist called me a few weeks ago
"M10 hospital is gone, a missile hit it a few hours ago, killed two patients, injured 3 staff members, a lot of the hospital is destroyed along with the operating room and the intensive care unit. The area is now without a functioning hospital."
In the last three years there has been systematic targeting and destruction of the healthcare system, in huge parts of the country up to 70% of all healthcare facilities have been destroyed or rendered non- functional. In Aleppo, the largest city in Syria and home to millions of people, according to Physicians for Human Rights, some 250 doctors remain out of over 6000.
There are literally thousands of Syrians, every day heroes whom I could talk about. Professor Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University says that the very same situation has the power to influence people in three ways. It can either inflame the hostile imagination of those who become perpetrators of evil, or it can ignite the heroic imagination of others or, arguably of greatest gravity, render most people passive bystanders guilty of the evil of inaction.
The Syrian people have suffered more than most can possibly imagine. March 15th will mark the third anniversary of this barbaric war on civilians and a campaign is gathering to both show solidarity and inspire political change. Three years of failure by the world to end the appalling suffering. This must be the last anniversary of the conflict marked by bloodshed and suffering. Will the world stand with the heroes of Syria?
Dr. Rola Hallam is a British-Syrian doctor in anaesthesia and intensive care, with a passion for education, child and maternal global health.