As violence brings death and destruction to the people of Syria, a volunteer ambulance driver has described his life-saving work during fighting at the Yarmouk refugee camp.
On December 17 2012, Hamza – a Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteer – was called to help people in desperate need of treatment at the camp in Damascus.
Violence had left its hospitals completely overwhelmed and unable to take in all of the injured. The 22-year-old student spent the day taking wounded people for urgent treatment outside the camp before eventually returning to base, washing the blood from his ambulance – and heading back to Yarmouk the next day.
He said: “My first case was an 18-year-old man who had been shot in the head. We stabilised him as best as we could and then decided to take him to Mushtahid Hospital where they have specialist support. On the way we administered CPR and tried to prevent his condition from deteriorating any further.”
Throughout that day, Hamza and his volunteers transported nine more injured people to nearby hospitals. As these became more crowded, a SARC operations room used information about which hospitals were filling up to guide the ambulance crew to others where treatment was available. The team’s job became harder as the roads filled up with people fleeing the fighting.
“We don’t take any side… we are only there to help the injured”
Hamza said the SARC’s reputation for neutrality and independence meant volunteers could bring life-saving help to areas that would otherwise have been off limits.
“The Ministry of Health ambulances are not able to enter into areas of fighting but the people in the community trust the SARC emblem and they know that we are only there to take the injured from the camp and so they don’t shoot at us. We don’t take any side in the politics, we are only there to help the injured.”
He added: “When I finished my shift at 8pm I was exhausted. But at the end of the shift we have to come back to the operations centre and prepare the ambulance for the next team. This means washing the blood from the back and properly cleaning everything inside and outside. We also restock all of the medical supplies ready for the night shift.
“My shift on Tuesday was just as busy, but it was much harder to access the camp. As the fighting intensified and there were more people leaving we found it more and more difficult.”
Vital aid in a desperate situation
Across Syria, millions of people have been displaced from their homes or fled the country. Lives and livelihoods are being disrupted, and in many places access to healthcare, and food, water and other basic supplies is still difficult.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and SARC are the only major agencies able to work across frontlines in Syria.
Volunteers like Hamza are risking their lives to provide a lifeline for anyone caught up in the conflict, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is giving much-needed help to refugees in nearby countries.
The Irish Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal is raising money to help provide vital aid in a desperation situation. Please donate today.
With thanks to the British Red Cross for sharing Hamza’s story